By Te Ao With Moana reporter Ximena Smith.
In 1989, Terri Friesen was convicted of killing her newborn baby Chantelle. Almost 30 years later, her conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal. Terri believes she deserves both an apology and compensation. In the final episode of Te Ao with Moana for the 2021 season, host Moana Maniapoto sits down with Terri to discuss her reaction to Minister Kris Faafoi’s rejection letter.
Terri Friesen was just 21 when she was convicted for the manslaughter of he seven-week-old baby, Chantelle, in November 1989.
Her then-partner, Brownie Broughton confessed to police on two separate occasions that he was the actual offender. When Broughton was eventually convicted of the baby’s manslaughter in 2002, Justice Robert Chambers wrote in his sentencing notes, “Chantelle’s mother in fact had nothing to do with Chantelle’s death … you stood by and let her confess to a crime which she had not committed”.
Friesen’s conviction remained on her record until the Court of Appeal quashed it in 2018.
Since then, Friesenhas twice applied for compensation from the government for wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Both times she’s been declined - first in 2019 by then-Justice Minister Andrew Little and then again, this year, by current Justice Minister Kris Faafoi.
“It broke my heart, man, not just for me but for Chantelle”, a tearful Friesen told Moana.
“No-one’s honouring her.”
In 1989, Friesenhad initially told police she’d shaken the baby to stop her from crying. However, she’s long-maintained that this was a false confession made under duress.
Friesen says police questioned her for hours, and threatened that her other daughter, three-year-old Rebecca, would be taken into care if neither she nor Broughton confessed.
She says police also suggested that Broughton would be killed in prison if convicted, as he’d be “known as a baby killer”.
The minister points to Friesen’s false confession as one reason why it wouldn’t be in the interests of justice to award her compensation.
He wrote that concern for the welfare of her partner and daughter “explain why she falsely confessed but does not excuse it”, and that “intentionally lying to the police and the court perverts the course of justice.”
Friesen’s compensation application argued that a major factor contributing toward her false confession was the abuse she suffered at the hands of Brownie.
But Minister Faafoi’s letter rejects this explanation as well, saying that “the psychiatrist who assessed Ms Friesen prior to trial found her to be a normal young woman with no formal diagnosed mental disorder.”
Law professor Julia Tolmie, an expert in intimate partner violence at the University of Auckland, says this misunderstands how domestic abuse can operate.
“What we know today is that women without mental disorders get into relationships that are violent. Basically, women enter relationships, and by the time they get clarity on their partner's abuse, they're often entrapped there,” Tomie explains.
“Intimate partner violence is an attack on the victim’s personhood. It's an attempt to undermine her autonomy and close down her space for action.”
“When you understand how intimate partner violence works, it's kind of perfectly easy to understand why it's not uncommon for victims of intimate partner violence to actually put their hand up and take responsibility for offending that their partner has actually committed.”
Tolmie also says the police response compounded the abuse.
“An appropriate safety response by the police might have been to think there may well be other victims here.”
“The police, in this case, did the exact opposite.”
Minister Faafoi’s letter also says Friesen had not successfully proven her innocence on the balance of probabilities, which is one of the criteria for compensation in the Cabinet’s 2020 guidelines.
Investigator Tim McKinnel helped Friesen get her conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal and was involved in her compensation application.
He says Friesen has done all she can do to prove her innocence.
“The officer in charge of the case that prosecuted the actual offender was of the view that Friesen was innocent. The High Court judge who sentenced the actual offender was very clear in his judgment that Terri was innocent. The Court of Appeal that quashed her conviction ordered no retrial. I'm not sure how much more legally innocent you can get in this country,” McKinnel says.
But he acknowledges the compensation process for wrongful convictions is difficult, and the threshold to establish innocence is high.
He knows these challenges well, having experienced them first-hand when attempting to secure compensation for Teina Pora, who spent 20 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit, who was awarded $3.5 million in compensation by the government after a lengthy legal battle.
Lawyer Jeremy Sutton suggests any financial compensation for Friesen would be modest in comparison and that most applicants are really seeking an apology.
When he acted for Tyson Redman, wrongfully convicted for wounding and injuring in 2007, it took him four and a half years to prove Tyson’s innocence and successfully win compensation.
He worries the current process may alienate many who may not be aware they could be eligible.
Sutton also wonders whether the compensation process would benefit from having more independence (currently, all decisions are at the discretion of the government).
“I do think there's an element of politics involved, that some people are perhaps seen as more worthy of getting compensation than someone else,” Sutton says.
He thinks this might be at play in Friesen’s case.
University of Auckland associate law professor Carrie Leonetti shares his concerns. She says the evidence Minister Faafoi’s letter cites from Friesen's neighbours on the night on Chantelle’s death casts Friesen as a “bad mother”.
“They put on evidence from neighbours, basically that she had a foul mouth … that the neighbours could hear her yelling.
“It’s the idea that if she's any little bit of bad mum, she's somehow either not worthy of the compensation or she was able to commit the murder at the time.”
Friesen is still hopeful that the Minister of Justice might change his mind, and is considering her legal options.
“I don't think she's prepared to sit on her hands and let it be,” McKinnel says.
“She’s lived with this for a very, very long time. Any suggestion at all to Friesen that she might’ve had some responsibility for Chantelle’s death is just unacceptable.
“So, she will look and see what she can do to take her case further.”