Dawson, 74, a former teacher and rugby player, has long maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty to his wife’s murder. He was arrested in 2018 — the same year millions listened to the podcast “The Teacher’s Pet,” which examined the couple’s relationship and the final weeks of 33-year-old Lynette’s life.
The podcast, which sparked headlines around the world, received a journalism award for uncovering “long-lost statements and new witnesses” in the case and prompting Australian police to renew the search for Lynette’s body. However, Harrison noted in his Tuesday judgment, it was probable that the series affected some of the evidence in the case.
Lynette vanished from her home on Sydney’s northern beaches in January 1982, leaving behind her daughters ages 2 and 4. She did not appear to have taken any of her belongings with her. Dawson said his wife had chosen to abandon their family.
After lengthy examination of the evidence, Harrison said he was “satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Lynette Dawson died on or about 8 January, 1982, as a result of a conscious and voluntary act committed by Mr. Dawson with the intention of causing her death. ”
While the evidence presented was “wholly circumstantial,” the evidence “considered as a whole is persuasive and compelling,” he said. “When regard is had to their combined force, I am left in no doubt.”
Harrison concluded Lynette “did not leave her home voluntarily” and said several “lies” told by Chris Dawson, including that Lynette had called him several times following her disappearance, saying that she needed time away from her family, demonstrated “a guilty conscience. ”
“The contention that Lynette Dawson, a woman supposedly desperate to leave a relationship, would be inclined to provide telephonic updates concerning the status of her decision to leave, is simply absurd,” Harrison said Tuesday, adding that Chris Dawson’s account of their conversations, in which she merely said “she needed more time away” but did not for example ask about their children, were not convincing.
Friends and relatives of Lynette had said in the podcast’s first episode that the devoted mother would never have abandoned her children, with whom she shared a special bond.
During the trial, prosecutors said Dawson had been in a relationship with a 16-year-old student of his who was also the family’s babysitter, identified only as “JC” in the trial, at the time of Lynette’s disappearance. JC moved into the family home shortly after Lynette disappeared. Prosecutors alleged Dawson had killed his wife so he would be able to continue his relationship with JC.
It took Dawson six weeks to report Lynette missing, and her body has never been found.
“We hope that one day that we will find our sister and put her to rest,” Lynette’s brother Greg Simms said Tuesday as he spoke outside the court. He called on Dawson to reveal the location of her remains so she could finally be put to rest.
The podcast “The Teacher’s Pet” was made unavailable in Australia in 2019, after Dawson was charged, to ensure he had a fair hearing. The trial also took place without a jury — at the request of Dawson — which he was granted due to the high-profile and widely publicized nature of the case.
While true crime podcasts and documentaries have become hugely popular in recent years, with some renewing interest in unsolved murder cases or potentially uncovering new evidence, the Dawson trial has raised questions about the impact such publicity can have on a trial.
Harrison said Tuesday that “The Teacher’s Pet” may have corrupted some of the evidence in the case, “depriving some evidence of its usefulness.”
He also noted that critics had argued the podcast presented a “less than balanced view” of the case.
In remarks outside the court following Tuesday’s verdict, the journalist behind the podcast, Hedley Thomas, said his role in the podcast made him feel as though he had “got to know” Lynette. “Her story struck me as so unfair, so unjust, I did become obsessive about it,” he told reporters.
While Thomas welcomed the verdict and hailed prosecutors in the case, he noted that Dawson had been able to enjoy 40 years of his life without facing “accountability” for his actions due to flaws in the system and earlier handling of the case. He said Lynette was simply “treated as a runaway mother, when the circumstances were so gravely suspicious,” adding that it was “disgraceful.”
Greg Walsh, Dawson’s lawyer, told reporters Tuesday that his client was “in shock” and “upset” and would “certainly” be appealing the guilty verdict.
“Mr. Dawson has always asserted, and he still does, his absolute innocence of the crime of which he’s been convicted. And he will continue to assert that innocence. And he’ll certainly appeal.”
Dawson will be sentenced at a later date.