In 2003, Kathleen Folbigg was found guilty, by a jury, of offences relating to the deaths of her four children; Caleb in 1989 (aged 19 days), Patrick in 1991 (aged eight months and ten days), Sarah in 1993 (aged ten months and 16 days) and Laura in 1999 (aged 18 months and 22 days).
Folbigg was sentenced to serve 30-years behind bars. Her non parole period is scheduled to end in 2028.
Now, with a new judicial review casting serious doubt over the strengths of the convictions, the case might be about to take a dramatic new turn. Folbigg’s lawyers want her released immediately. If this occurs, based on scientific evidence that wasn’t available at the original trial, it is likely to lead to pressure for significant law reform, and a change to the way courts handle science.
Folbigg has always maintained her innocence.
Her appeals against her convictions were rejected twice by the Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA). An application for special leave to the High Court of Australia to appeal her convictions was also refused. Her appeal against sentence was upheld by the CCA and her sentence was reduced to 30 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 25 years.
Two further enquiries were convened after new scientific evidence came to light.
The first enquiry, started in 2019, heard from genetics experts who decoded the children’s DNA and discovered they had several gene variations. Among them was the G114R variant, which impacts heartbeat regulation.
But after hearing that and other aspects of the case, former NSW District Court Chief Justice Reginald Blanch KC, concluded “somebody intentionally caused harm to the children” and that Folbigg was the only person who could have done so. She remained in jail.
One of the genetics teams, collaborating internationally, then analysed the G114R variant in greater detail. They concluded it might cause spontaneous death, which convinced the Australian Academy of Science to petition the NSW Governor for another examination of the case.
A second inquiry, which began in November last year, has been reviewing new research into a gene variant called CALM2 G114R, which might have caused Sarah and Laura’s deaths. Tests on their DNA samples showed this mutation was inherited by the girls from their mother.
Cosmos science journalists have been following the case and reporting in detail on all aspects of the science and the law, talking to the people behind the case, and reporting live from court. You can read, watch and listen too, the essential moments below.
28 April 2023: Video explainer and The review wraps up.
27 April 2023: Folbigg lawyers want immediate release
27 April 2023: Beyond reasonable doubt?
26 April 2023: The Academy welcomes the process
26 April 2023: The third enquiry hears final oral submissions
6 April 2023: The Folbigg supporter
27 February 2023: The Academy restates its case for law reform
23 February 2023: The diaries are re-examined
22 February 2023: Forensic pathologists disagree
22 February 2023: Meadow’s Law, and bad assumptions that put women behind bars
21 February 2023: The SIDS experts
20 February 2023: Explainer: How science decides when a mutation is deadly
17 February 2023: Evidence puts conviction in doubt
17 February 2023: Court cant wait for science to unfold
17 February 2023: Podcast: Scientists in court could perform better say experts
14 February 2023: Genetics and psychology re-examined
13 February 2023: Explainer video – what is calmodulin?
10 February 2023: The second enquiry resumes with the new experts
5 December, 2022: Podcast: Could the new evidence result in Folbigg being released from prison?
15 November 2022: The scientific breakthrough explained
15 November 2022: New research tabled at enquiry
14 November 2022: The Australian Academy of Science and its role in the Folbigg case
14 November 2022: Calmodulin regulates the heartbeat.
These articles contain subject matter some readers may find distressing. If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. Red Nose Australia provides 24/7 bereavement and counselling services for those affected by the loss of a child on 1300 308 307.