Mother who spent 20 years in prison for killing her four children has convictions overturned

14 December 2023, 07:33

Kathleen Folbigg has had her convictions for killing her four children overturned
Kathleen Folbigg has had her convictions for killing her four children overturned. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

A woman who spent two decades behind bars for killing her four children has had her convictions overturned.

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Australian Kathleen Folbigg, 56, was convicted of the murder of three of her children and the manslaughter of the fourth - but new evidence suggests they may have died of natural causes.

She was pardoned in June, because that was seen as the fastest way to get her out of prison, but the convictions were quashed this week.

Ms Folbigg had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2003 for the killings.

Applause filled the New South Wales courtroom as a judge overturned the convictions.

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Kathleen Folbigg
Kathleen Folbigg. Picture: Alamy

Chief Justice Andrew Bell said: "While the verdicts at trial were reasonably open on the evidence available, there is now reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg's guilt.

"It is appropriate Ms Folbigg's convictions be quashed."

Ms Folbigg thanked her supporters, lawyers and the scientists who provided new evidence for helping overturn the convictions.

She said: "For almost a quarter of a century, I faced disbelief and hostility. I suffered abuse in all its forms. I hoped and prayed that one day, I would be able to stand here with my name cleared.

Kathleen Folbigg was sentenced to 30 years for the killings
Kathleen Folbigg was sentenced to 30 years for the killings. Picture: Getty

"I am grateful that updated science and genetics have given me answers of how my children died.

"The system preferred to blame me rather than accept that sometimes children can and do die suddenly, unexpectedly and heartbreakingly."

She is now set to demand "significant" compensation from the government for her time spent in prison, her lawyer said.

Kathleen Folbigg speaks to the media after her convictions were overturned
Kathleen Folbigg speaks to the media after her convictions were overturned. Picture: Alamy

Ms Folbigg's first child, Caleb, was born in 1989 and died 19 days later. She was convicted of manslaughter in connection with his death.

Patrick, her second child, was eight months old when he died in 1991. Sarah, her third, died at ten months in 1992. Her fourth child, Laura, lived to 19 months before dying in 1999.

Prosecutors claimed she smothered them. Scientists later found evidence that Sarah and Laura carried a rare CALM2 genetic variant that could have been behind their deaths. Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, may also have contributed to Laura's death.

Patrick's death may have been caused by a rare neurogenetic condition.

These scientific factors undermined the legal argument of a pattern of behaviour that underpinned Ms Folbigg's manslaughter conviction for Caleb's death.

Ms Folbigg was originally pardoned on the recommendation of an inquiry that was prompted by a petition signed in 2021 by 90 scientists, medical practitioners and related professionals, raising the new evidence.

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