An Australian former high school teacher has been jailed for 24 years for murdering his wife 40 years ago – after a popular podcast triggered a new police investigation.
Chris Dawson, 74, was the subject of hit podcast, The Teacher’s Pet after being accused of killing Lynette Dawson in January 1982, although her body was never found.
A 2003 inquest had recommended charging Dawson with his wife’s murder, but prosecutors declined, citing a lack of evidence.
The cold case against him was reopened after the 2018 podcast put pressure on the police to revisit their investigation.
It set out a circumstantial case that the ex-rugby league player had murdered his wife.
In August this year, he was found guilty of the crime to pursue a relationship with a teenage student he was having an affair with, and who had babysat and lived in his Sydney home.
He was tried without a jury due to the publicity surrounding the case.
Dawson’s legal team had argued The Teacher’s Pet, a true-crime podcast produced by News Corp’s The Australian newspaper, denied him a fair trial because of the way he was depicted.
Judge Harrison had agreed the podcast – a number one hit the paper says has been downloaded more than 50 million times – had cast Dawson in a negative light, but had not factored into the verdict.
Sentencing him at New South Wales Supreme Court, Judge Ian Harrison said Dawson’s claim that his wife had left him was fanciful.
“Dawson has enjoyed until his arrest 36 years in the community, unimpeded by the taint of a conviction for killing his wife, or by any punishment for doing so,” he said.
“In a practical sense, his denial of responsibility for that crime has benefited him in obvious ways.”
Dawson has insisted he was not involved in his wife’s disappearance.
His lawyer said he would be appealing against the sentence. “He maintains his innocence,” he told reporters on Friday.
Dawson will be eligible for parole in 2040, when he is 92 years old.
Greg Simms, Lynette Dawson’s brother, said the family welcomed the sentence.
“We respect and thank Judge Harrison for his sentence, and hope Chris Dawson lives a long life in order to serve that sentence,” he said.
Dan Doherty, a detective involved in the police investigation, said while the sentence would bring comfort to the family, the case remains open as the victim’s body has still not been found.