Australian mother released to 20 years in prison because she doubted she killed her four children

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian woman who had served 20 years in prison was pardoned and released on Monday based on new scientific evidence that what she had claimed her four children had died of natural causes.

The pardon was believed to be the quickest way to get Kathleen Folbigg out of prison, and a final report on the second inquest into her guilt could recommend that the state appeals court overturn her convictions.

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

Australian state governors are figureheads who act at the direction of the government. New South Wales Attorney General Michael Daley said former judge Tom Bathurst told him last week there was reasonable doubt about Folbigg’s guilt, based on new scientific evidence that the deaths could have been due to natural causes.

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

“I have concluded that there is reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg’s guilt in these offences,” Daley added.

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

During his investigation in April, prosecutors admitted that there were reasonable doubts about her guilt.

Folbigg was serving a 30-year sentence, scheduled to expire in 2033. She would have been eligible for parole in 2028.

Kathleen Folbigg leaves Maitland Court March 22, 2004.
Kathleen Folbigg leaves Maitland Court March 22, 2004.

Fairfax Media via Getty Images

The children died individually over a decade between the ages of 19 days and 19 months.

Their first child, Caleb, was born in 1989 and died 19 days later in what a jury found the lesser crime of manslaughter. Their second child, Patrick, was 8 months old when he died in 1991. Two years later, Sarah died at the age of 10 months. In 1999, Folbigg’s fourth child, Laura, died at the age of 19 months.

Evidence discovered in 2018 that both daughters carried a rare CALM2 gene variant was one of the reasons for initiating the investigation.

Attorney Sophie Callan said expert evidence in the fields of cardiology and genetics suggested the CALM2-G114R genetic variant was “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 “convincing expert evidence that there is a reasonable likelihood that an underlying neurogenetic disorder” caused his sudden death.

The scientific evidence cast doubt on Folbigg killing the three children and undermined the argument made in Caleb’s case that the deaths of four children were an unlikely coincidence, Callan said.

Prosecutors told the jury at their trial that the similarities between the deaths made coincidence an unlikely explanation.

Folbigg was the only one home or awake when the young children died. She said she discovered three of the deaths while going to the toilet and one while checking a child’s well-being.

Prosecutors also told the jury that Folbigg’s diaries contained admissions of guilt.

Her former husband, Craig Folbigg, said in his submissions to the inquiry that the implausibility that four children in a family would die of natural causes before the age of two was a compelling reason for continuing to treat the diary entries as his ex-wife’s guilty plea .

But Callan said psychologists and psychiatrists had proven that interpreting the entries in this way was “unreliable.”

Callan said that Folbigg was suffering from a major depressive disorder and “maternal grief” at the time she made the entries.

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