Judgment day:Three key factors in the sentencing of Chris Dawson

A NSW Supreme Court judge will consider Chris Dawson’s lack of remorse for the murder of his wife Lynette Dawson,his “deteriorating” health and years of relentless media coverage as he sets a jail term for the 74-year-old on Friday.

Dawson has been in custody sincethe guilty verdict in August, when Justice Ian Harrison found he had a “possessive infatuation” with the babysitter and former student,known as JC,and had “resolved to kill his wife”.

Chris Dawson with JC (left) and Lynette (right).

Chris Dawson with JC (left) and Lynette (right).Nick Moir,NSW Supreme Court

Lynette,a 33-year-old mother of two,vanished from Sydney’s northern beaches in January 1982.

The judge has anticipated similar scenes on Friday to the day of Dawson’s conviction,when an overflow courtroom was opened for onlookers. He will deliver the sentence from noon to avoid swamping security and crowding corridors during the morning peak in the Queens Square complex on Philip Street.

No body and ‘no remorse’

Lynette’s body has never been found.New “no body,no parole” laws,introduced in NSW following Dawson’s conviction,require an offender to disclose the location of their victim’s remains for a chance of early release.

The Crown did not push for a life sentence,but Crown prosecutor Craig Everson,SC,told the court last month that a “just and appropriate sentence must accord due recognition to the human dignity of the victim of domestic violence,and the legitimate interest of the general community in the denunciation and punishment of someone that kills their spouse”.

Dawson “has shown no remorse”,the prosecutor said.

He said “salient” features of the crime included preparation and planning days before the murder and substantial harm caused to others.

“The offender plainly knew that the death of his wife Lynette was going to deprive their children of their mother,” Everson said.

“The death of Lynette and the offender’s subsequent campaign of disinformation left her parents and siblings in a state of anxiety,upset and uncertainty for decades.”

The Crown made no reference to “specific deterrence”,accepting the judge’s proposition that the likelihood Dawson would commit a similar offence was “not only remote,it’s non-existent”.

“Yes it is,” Everson said. “That is one of those things that contrasts this matter with notorious cases that come before the court.”

Health difficulties

Defence lawyer Greg Walsh has conceded Dawson will “die in jail” unless he is successful on appeal due to the lengthy sentence he is facing,his age and “deteriorating” health.

Walsh said Dawson,who played rugby league for the Newtown Jets in the 1970s,had heart and brain issues,and he raised the neurodegenerative condition of chronic traumatic encephalopathy,or CTE.

“He’s not in good health,that makes it very difficult when you’re in custody,” he said outside court.

The four decades since the crime and the question of delay are likely to feature significantly in sentencing remarks,including how long it took for Dawson to be charged.

“Much of the delay in bringing this case to court was caused by the offender by his pretence that Lynette was alive and had simply disappeared,” Everson said.

‘Egregious’ publicity

The case gained international notoriety following the release ofThe Teacher’s Pet podcast by investigative journalist Hedley Thomas in 2018,the same year detectives asked the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to again review the case before Dawson was charged with murder.

Walsh told the court his client had been badgered with threats against his life in prison,including “we’ll cut your throat,The Teacher’s Pet”.

“This offender has been the subject of probably the most constant and egregious publicity that one has seen,” he said.

Defence solicitor Greg Walsh speaks to the media in November.

Defence solicitor Greg Walsh speaks to the media in November.Jessica Hromas

Justice Harrison said:“I had a bit to say about extra-curial punishment when I sentenced Ms[Harriet] Wran some years ago,so I’m not unmindful.”

Extra-curial punishment is the “loss or detriment imposed on an offender by persons other than the sentencing court for the purpose of punishing the offender for his[or her] offence”.

The sentencing bench book states that the weight to be given to extra-curial punishment depends on the circumstances:“In some cases,extra-judicial punishment attracts little or no weight.”

Dawson is expected to be brought to court in a prison truck for his sentence.

Support is available from the National Sexual Assault,Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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Sarah McPhee is a court reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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