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Kathleen Folbigg: Mother Pardoned after Serving 20 Years in Prison For Killing Her Babies

The NSW governor approved a full pardon and mandated Folbigg's immediate release from custody

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

AUSTRALIA: A mother once branded “Australia’s worst female serial killer” has been pardoned and released after new evidence showed she didn’t kill her four infant children.

Kathleen Folbigg served 20 years in prison after a jury determined that she killed children Sarah and Laura, sons Caleb and Patrick, and over a decade. But a recent investigation found that scientists believe that they might have passed away naturally.

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The case of the 55-year-old has been described as one of Australia’s worst failures of justice. Folbigg, who has consistently maintained her innocence, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2003 for the manslaughter of her first child, Caleb, and the murder of three other children.

Each child died unexpectedly between 1989 and 1999, ranging in age from 19 days to 19 months. At her trial, the prosecution claimed she murdered the children.

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Previous appeals and a subsequent investigation into the matter in 2019 determined there was no reasonable basis for doubt and gave circumstantial evidence in Folbigg’s initial trial more weight.

However, at the new inquest, presided over by retired judge Tom Bathurst, prosecutors acknowledged that research on gene mutations had altered their understanding of the children’s deaths.

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Attorney General for New South Wales Michael Daley stated on Monday that Bathurst had reached the conclusion that there was a good chance Folbigg was not guilty.

As a result, the NSW governor approved a full pardon and mandated Folbigg’s immediate release from custody.

“It has been a 20-year battle for her… I wish her peace,” Daley said, adding that the father of the children, Craig Folbigg, was also in his thoughts.

At the most recent inquiry, Folbigg’s attorneys emphasised the “fundamental implausibility” of four children from one family dying of natural causes before turning two.

Daley stated that Folbigg’s convictions remain in effect despite her unconditional pardon. If Bathurst decides to refer the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal, which could take up to a year, the Court of Criminal Appeal will make that determination.

She might sue the government for millions of dollars in compensation if her convictions are overturned.

Her story has drawn comparisons to that of Lindy Chamberlain, who was convicted of killing her nine-week-old daughter in 1982 despite claiming a dingo had abducted the child. For her erroneous conviction, she received a 1992 settlement of A$1.3 million (£690,000; US$858,000).

But other advocates say the case of Chamberlain, imprisoned for three years, is far less severe than Folbigg’s.

Her attorney, Rhanee Rego said that it is impossible to fully understand the harm imposed on Kathleen Folbigg—the agony of losing her children and over two decades imprisoned in maximum security prisons.

The main focus of Folbigg’s 2003 trial was circumstantial evidence, particularly her journals that detailed her motherhood challenges.

Her then-husband, Craig Folbigg, who over time grew to believe that his wife was culpable, handed over those journals to authorities in 1999. In 2000, the couple divorced.

The diary entries, in which she laments the loss of her children and talks about how “guilt about them all haunts me,” would serve as the foundation for the prosecutor’s case.

However, there was no outward sign of the youngsters being hurt or being suffocated. A petition to review her convictions based on forensic pathology findings was sparked by a campaign run by some of her friends.

In the most recent investigation, a group of immunologists discovered that Folbigg’s daughters all carried the genetic mutation known as CALM2 G114R, which can result in sudden cardiac death.

Additionally, it was discovered that her sons had a separate genetic abnormality that had been connected to sudden-onset epilepsy in mice.

Prof Carola Vinuesa, who oversaw the research team from the Australian National University, stated that an uncommon genetic sequence was instantly apparent in Folbigg’s DNA.

Carola stated that the team performed the initial test and discovered a [gene] variant that appeared suspicious. She went on to say that even back in November 2018, the team believed this was the likely culprit if detected in the children.

There are only 134 known cases of the potentially fatal heart ailment associated with the genetic mutation, Prof. Vinuesa stated. She called the decision to pardon Folbigg a “beautiful moment” that would give other women in comparable circumstances hope.

It appears from the cases that the children in question also have significant genetic disorders, she said. “We’ve been approached about women who have lost children or who have been accused of harm,” she said.

The Australian Academy of Science and Folbigg’s attorney both ask for changes to the legal system that would make it more “science-sensitive” in light of the case.

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