Taranaki mother's conviction over baby killing quashed

A Taranaki mother has had her conviction for manslaughter quashed by the Court of Appeal, nearly 30 years after she was convicted for killing her baby.

Terri Friesen has always denied she was responsible for the death of seven-week-old baby Chantelle, but says she lied to police in the days following because she thought it was the right thing to do at the time.

According to Ms Friesen, one night in March 1989, her baby Chantelle wouldn't stop crying. She passed the baby to her partner at the time, Brownie Walter Broughton, and went to sleep.

When Ms Friesen woke, Chantelle was dead. The pathologist later found she died from non-accidental injuries from being shaken.

Chantelle suffered from a brain injury and cracked ribs - an injury her mother says she knew nothing about.

When interrogated by police, Ms Friesen claims she was told that her elder daughter would be taken away if she didn't confess. She also claims she was told a judge and jury would be more likely to let her off than if her partner confessed.  

So she told police she did it.

At the trial in November 1989, Ms Friesen plead not guilty to manslaughter using a defence of 'infanticide', which is available to women who can prove their minds were temporarily 'disturbed'. She spent six weeks in remand and was sentenced to six months supervised detention.

"It was a make or break situation, the hardest thing was knowing that what I'm about to say was a lie, that my baby and God... that they would know that this is going to be a hideous lie to come out my mouth," she told Newshub Nation.

In 1991 Broughton went to police in New Plymouth to confess that he had shaken baby Chantelle.

The statement from the detective he spoke to concluded: "I was satisfied from the method he described to me that he did not contribute towards the death of the child" and that the "case does not need to be reopened".

In 2001, Broughton went to confess again. This time it was referred to former Detective Sergeant in New Plymouth Grant Coward who told Newshub: "from my dealings with the pair in 2001, Terri Friesen told me that she had nothing to do with it and he told me that he was responsible so at the end of the day that was the line we took - he was responsible and she had nothing to do with it."

Ms Friesen thought her conviction would be automatically wiped but it wasn't. However when her story was featured in the documentary I am Innocent, Canterbury law student Kelly Phillips got in touch.

Ms Phillips put her in touch with private investigator Tim McKinnel, who helped secure Teina Pora's release from prison.