Sat | Sep 23, 2023

Mother imprisoned for 20 years freed because of doubt she killed four children

Published:Tuesday | June 6, 2023 | 12:35 AM
Kathleen Folbigg
Kathleen Folbigg


An Australian woman who spent 20 years in prison was pardoned and released Monday based on new scientific evidence that her four children died by natural causes as she had insisted.

The pardon was seen as the quickest way of getting Kathleen Folbigg out of prison, and a final report from the second inquiry into her guilt could recommend that the state Court of Appeals quash her convictions.

Folbigg, now 55, was released from a prison in Grafton, New South Wales state, following an unconditional pardon by Gov Margaret Beazley.

Australian state governors are figureheads who act on instructions of governments. New South Wales Attorney-General Michael Daley said former justice Tom Bathurst had advised him last week that there was reasonable doubt about Folbigg’s guilt based on new scientific evidence that the deaths could have been from natural causes.

“There is a reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg’s guilt of the manslaughter of her child Caleb, the infliction of grievous bodily harm on her child Patrick, and the murder of her children Patrick, Sarah and Laura,” Daley told reporters.

“I have reached a view that there is reasonable doubt as to the guilt of Ms Folbigg of those offenses,” Daley added.

Bathurst has conducted the second inquiry into Folbigg’s guilt, initiated by a petition that said it was “based on significant positive evidence of natural causes of death” and signed by 90 scientists, medical practitioners, and related professionals.

Prosecutors acknowledged to his inquiry in April that there was reasonable doubt about her guilt.

Folbigg was serving a 30-year prison sentence that was to expire in 2033. She would have become eligible for parole in 2028.

The children died separately over a decade, at between 19 days and 19 months old.

Her first child, Caleb, was born in 1989 and died 19 days later in what a jury determined to be the lesser crime of manslaughter. Her second child, Patrick, was eight months old when he died in 1991. Two years later, Sarah died at 10 months. In 1999, Folbigg’s fourth child, Laura, died at 19 months.

NEW evidence

Evidence discovered in 2018 that both daughters carried a rare CALM2 genetic variant was one of the reasons that the inquiry was called.

Lawyer Sophie Callan said expert evidence in the fields of cardiology and genetics indicated that the CALM2-G114R genetic variant “is a reasonably possible cause” of the daughters’ sudden deaths.

Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, was also a “reasonably possible cause” of Laura’s death, Callan said.

For Patrick, Callan said there was “persuasive expert evidence that as a matter of reasonable possibility, an underlying neurogenetic disorder” caused his sudden death.

The scientific evidence created doubt that Folbigg killed the three children and undermined the argument made in Caleb’s case that four child deaths were an improbable coincidence, Callan said.

Prosecutors had told the jury at her trial that the similarities among the deaths made coincidence an unlikely explanation.