A group of 90 expert scientists and doctors is calling for convicted child killer Kathleen Folbigg to be pardoned in light of new medical evidence which suggests her children may have died of natural causes.
- Ms Folbigg has served 18 years in prison for the murder and manslaughter of her four children
- Experts are arguing that two of her children may have died of a cardiac condition
- A 2019 inquiry upheld the convictions, but a pardon is now up to the NSW Governor
Folbigg, 53, was convicted in 2003 of smothering her four children over a 10-year period from 1989 to 1999 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
The group of scientists and experts has signed a petition calling on NSW Governor Margaret Beazley to “stop the ongoing miscarriage of justice suffered by Ms Folbigg”.
“Not to do so is to continue to deny Ms Folbigg basic human rights,” the group wrote.
“Ms Folbigg’s case establishes a dangerous precedent as it means that cogent medical and scientific evidence can simply be ignored in preference to subjective interpretations of circumstantial evidence.”
It comes following a 2019 inquiry led by Justice Reginald Blanch which upheld Folbigg’s convictions of murder and manslaughter, with Justice Blanch stating he did not have “any reasonable doubt” as to Folbigg’s guilt.
The group who submitted the petition includes Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty, Nobel prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn and former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley.
Solicitor Rhanee Rego has previously acted for Folbigg and said there has been significant new medical evidence that shows at least two of her children, Sarah and Laura Folbigg, likely died of natural causes.
“We wrote this petition to bring to light this new scientific evidence,” she said.
“These are some of the most widely recognised and most intelligent scientists and medical practitioners across the world, not just in Australia, and they are persuaded by the new findings.”
Genetic sequencing of Sarah and Laura Folbigg’s DNA, obtained from their neonatal heel prick tests, showed they both inherited a genetic mutation from their mother known as CALM2.
Ms Rego said medical and scientific literature showed that mutations of the CALM2 gene can cause sudden cardiac death.
“It’s one of the best-recognised causes of sudden death, both awake and asleep, in infants and adults,” she said.
“If it’s triggered by things like intercurrent infections or drugs like pseudoephedrine, this can actually trigger a cardiac arrhythmia.”
“This is what the group of scientists have now found as the likely explanation of Sarah and Laura Folbigg’s death.”
Ms Rego said there was also emerging research that shows Folbigg’s two sons, Patrick and Caleb Folbigg, may have carried different genetic mutations which contributed to their deaths.
“We have a natural cause of death explanation for each of the children,” she said.
“The CALM2 variant has been found in Sarah and Laura and there is also two other significant genes of interest that could relate to the boys – that’s under further investigation.”
Kathleen Folbigg was convicted on largely circumstantial evidence contained in diaries she wrote around the times of her children’s deaths.
An entry in her diary from January 1, 1997 – when she was pregnant with Laura – read: “Another year gone and what a year to come. I have a baby on the way which means major personal sacrifice for both of us, but I feel confident about it all going well. This time I am going to call for help, this time I’ll not attempt to do everything myself any more. I know that that was my main reason for all my stress before and stress made me do terrible things …”
Another of the entries read: “I feel like the worst mother on this earth. Scared that she’ll leave me now like Sarah did. I knew I was short-tempered and cruel sometimes to her, and she left. With a bit of help.”
However, Folbigg told a friend she was referencing “God or some higher being” in telephone conversations from Cessnock jail which were later broadcast on ABC’s Australian Story.
Ms Rego believes medical evidence should trump circumstantial evidence when it comes to a serious conviction like the murder or manslaughter of children.
“Our legal system is not infallible, we do make mistakes,” she said.
“We only need to look at Lindy Chamberlain to see and remind us that this can happen … and we say it is a miscarriage of justice and the Governor has the power to pardon Kathleen Folbigg.”
The decision to pardon Folbigg now rests solely with the NSW Governor.
If Folbigg is successful in being pardoned, it would not mean her convictions for the children’s deaths are automatically overturned.
She would still need to seek leave to appeal her conviction in the NSW courts.
What are your thoughts about this? Are signatures from 90 health professionals enough to put ‘reasonable doubt’ in your mind?