Karen Zelas

Peter Ellis: Convictions posthumously quashed in landmark Supreme Court decision
By Hazel Osborne
October 6, 2022

— Excerpt

… In the justices’ decision, read out via livestream from the court in Wellington at 2pm, they found that some evidence at Ellis’ trial was unfair and should not have been admitted.

This included the evidence of the Crown’s expert witness, psychiatrist Dr Karen Zelas, under section 23G of the Evidence Act 1908.

Zelas gave evidence that the parents who accused Ellis of abusing seven children reported behaviour that Zelas said was consistent with sexually abused children.

They included common childhood behaviours such as problems with sleeping and bedwetting but also “sexualised behaviour”.

The Supreme Court found Zelas’ evidence lacked balance, did not inform the jury of other possible causes of the behaviours, or where she did so she discounted or minimised the other causes.

It said in several respects Zelas went outside the scope of evidence permitted, in particular endorsing the credibility of a complainant’s evidence or suggesting one or more behaviours were diagnostic of sexual abuse, and that the jury may have understood Zelas’ evidence as doing both.

The court said the overall effect of Zelas’ evidence was to incorrectly suggest to the jury that the presence of clusters of behaviours could support a conclusion that sexual abuse had taken place.

It concluded that, given the extent of the inadmissible material and its impact on the trial, “it may well have affected the verdicts and thereby caused a miscarriage of justice”.

The justices also found issues with Zelas’ evidence on contamination of the children’s memory…