By Alasdair Pal
SYDNEY (Reuters) -An Australian former high school teacher, who was the subject of the hit podcast “The Teacher’s Pet”, was sentenced on Friday to 24 years in jail for murdering his wife 40 years ago, in a case that has gripped the nation.
The cold case against Christopher Dawson was reopened after the 2018 podcast put pressure on the police to revisit their investigation.
A 2003 inquest had recommended charging Dawson with his wife Lynette’s murder but prosecutors declined, citing a lack of evidence.
“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,” New South Wales Supreme Court Judge Ian Harrison said during the sentencing.
“In a practical sense, his denial of responsibility for that crime has benefited him in obvious ways.”
Dawson’s lawyer, Greg Walsh, said he planned to appeal the sentence.
“Our system of justice and our democracy is based upon the presumption of innocence,” he told media on Friday. “He maintains his innocence.”
Lynette Dawson’s brother, Greg Simms, 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 told media.
Dawson will be eligible for parole in 2040, when he will be 92 years old.
Dan Doherty, a homicide detective involved in bringing the charge, said while the sentence would bring comfort to the family, the case remained open as the victim’s body had still not been located.
In August the Supreme Court found Dawson deliberately killed his wife in January 1982 to pursue a relationship with a teenage student he was having an affair with, and who had babysat and lived in his Sydney home.
Dawson, now 74, claimed his wife had left him – a defence that Harrison said was fanciful.
Lawyers for Dawson, who was tried without a jury due to the publicity surrounding the case, argued that the podcast, produced by News Corp’s the Australian newspaper, denied him a fair trial because of the way he was depicted.
Harrison had agreed the podcast – a number-one hit that the newspaper says has been downloaded more than 50 million times – had cast Dawson in a negative light, but had not factored into the verdict.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in Sydney; Editing by William Mallard)