The obstacles to convicting Chris Dawson of his wife's murder

 smh.com.au  12/7/2018 1:00:00 PM 

A "sozzled"-sounding Lynette said the therapy session went well, and Chris had made her a "lovely drink".

She had planned to meet her family the next day, but never turned up.

Chris Dawson has been arrested for the murder of Lyn Dawson.

Chris Dawson has been arrested for the murder of Lyn Dawson.

Two days later, Mr Dawson’s teenage lover moved into the home.

On Wednesday, the ex-league player was arrested, hailed by the NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller as an “important step”. But for prosecutors, a daunting challenge lies ahead.

Keli Lane, who was convicted of killing her two-day-old daughter, and Lindy Chamberlain, whose conviction for murdering her baby was overturned, are part of an elite club - convicted of murder with no body.

A legal source close to the case told the Herald that while a body would strengthen the case, it is not a deal breaker for the prosecution.

“It will depend on the other evidence and whether that creates a reasonable prospect of conviction for the intentional killing of the victim. But it does open up lines of attack for the defence,” the source said.

Police have long insisted that a lack of body is no obstacle.

"We have solved homicides before without identifying the body. Ideally in this case we will not give up on trying to identify the whereabouts of Lynette Dawson, but … it is not crucial," Commissioner Fuller told reporters on Wednesday.

Before Mr Dawson was arrested, former director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC said he declined to prosecute because the case was “weak”.

Chris Dawson is escorted by NSW Police detectives off a Qantas flight as he is extradited from the Gold Coast.

Chris Dawson is escorted by NSW Police detectives off a Qantas flight as he is extradited from the Gold Coast.Credit:AAP

"Without a body, without knowing first of all whether in fact she is dead, without knowing secondly if she is dead, how she died; it's very hard to mount a case," he said.

Concerns about the trial’s fairness can be alleviated, sources say - it could be delayed, and a jury is always instructed to disregard what has been reported on the case.

Chris and Lynette Dawson on their wedding day. His twin brother Paul is at left.

Chris and Lynette Dawson on their wedding day. His twin brother Paul is at left.Credit:Sean Davey

Another possibility is a judge-only trial, which Mr Dawson’s lawyers would have to apply for, and is not guaranteed.

A jury trial would be a “disaster” for Mr Dawson, according to criminal lawyer Sam Macedone.

"Most people will have made up their mind before starting," he said. "You need a judge-only trial to ensure the case won't be affected by emotions."

University of Sydney Associate Professor Tyrone Kirchengast said that Mr Dawson's major downfall could be his suggestion of Lynette leaving to join a religious group, comparing it to Keli Lane's stumble over the name of Tegan's father - Andrew Norris or Andrew Morris.

"The suggestion that she dropped everything, including her two kids to go to a cult, could be the stumbling block,” he said.

If the case goes to a jury, he said, jurors are likely to be unsatisfied with circumstantial evidence.

"We call it the CSI effect - every jury wants to see the DNA evidence, evidence of blood or something that can give them ground for their decision," he said. "But in this case we have very limited evidence."

The passage of time

If convicted, the Dawson cold case will make Australian history after going unsolved for 36 years.

Without a body, the amount of time passed will prove a hurdle for both the prosecution and defence.

Mr Macedone has worked on numerous cold cases throughout his career, and believes that the amount of time that has elapsed will work in favour of the defence.

Lawyer Sam Macedone believes that the amount of time that has elapsed will work in favour of the defence.

Lawyer Sam Macedone believes that the amount of time that has elapsed will work in favour of the defence.Credit:David Moir

"Memory does play a big part in these cold cases. I imagine the defence will cross-examine witnesses to test the veracity and the accuracy of their testimonies," he said.

The podcast

The missing woman has become almost a household name, following the The Australian's launch of podcast The Teacher’s Pet.

Police carrying out a forensic search on the Dawson property at Bayview in September this year.

Police carrying out a forensic search on the Dawson property at Bayview in September this year. Credit: Jessica Hromas

With it has come significant interest in justice for Lynette.

But legal experts warn that armchair detectives baying for blood are sure to prejudice Mr Dawson's right to a fair trial - and Lynette’s chance for justice.

Mr Dawson’s own lawyer Greg Walsh voiced his concerns on Thursday.

Chris Dawson's lawyer Greg Walsh leaves Central Local Court in Sydney.

Chris Dawson's lawyer Greg Walsh leaves Central Local Court in Sydney.Credit:James Brickwood

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