Kathleen Folbigg pardoned by NSW Governor

After a sustained campaign by Australia’s leading scientists, Kathleen Folbigg has been pardoned and will be released from prison.

She will not serve the remaining 10 years of her 30-year sentence.

Folbigg was convicted for the murder of three of her children Patrick, Sarah and Laura, and manslaughter of son Caleb in 2003.  But today, NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley announced Folbigg had been pardoned, based on preliminary findings provided by Tom Bathurst KC, who since November has presided over an inquiry into her convictions.

Timeline of Kathleen Folbigg’s life and advances in genetic research

Daley read a statement from Bathurst, which agreed with assessments made by counsel assisting the inquiry that expert evidence presented by geneticists, cardiologists, neurologists, forensic pathologists, paediatricians, psychologists and psychiatrists cast reasonable doubt over her convictions.

In his letter, Bathurst set out that he was “firmly of the view” there is now reasonable doubt as to Folbigg’s guilt for each offence for which she was convicted.

The inquiry was triggered by a 2020 scientific study into a genetic mutation possessed only by Kathleen Folbigg and her daughters Sarah and Laura.

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But Bathurst also heard expert assessments of evidence collated in the years since Folbigg’s 2003 trial and her personal diaries used in her original prosecution.

He heard any mutation to the genes that produce calmodulin – a protein that regulates calcium, sodium and potassium ion flow in heart cells – were unlikely to be benign; the CALM2 G114R variation she passed to her daughters was a plausible cause of cardiac symptoms that could lead to their deaths.

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He also heard assessments by now-parliamentarian and paediatric neurologist Dr Monique Ryan suggesting complications from epilepsy were a likely cause of son Patrick’s death.

Myocarditis, independently observed in heart tissue samples taken from Laura Folbigg, was also deemed a possible cause of her death.

In the original trial, passages from Folbigg’s diaries were proposed as virtual admissions of guilt. In February, Bathurst heard from three independent experts who found the complete catalogue of diary entries instead portray maternal grief and a woman trying to make sense of the sudden and unexplained deaths of her children.

A petition from Australia’s leading scientists, including those involved in the 2020 research, led to the Bathurst inquiry being opened by former attorney general Mark Speakman.

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A statement released by the attorney general outlined five key points from Mr Bathurst’s memorandum, including:

  • There is a reasonable possibility that three of the children died of natural causes.
  • In the case of Sarah and Laura Folbigg, there is a reasonable possibility a genetic mutation known as CALM2-G114R occasioned their deaths.
  • Mr Bathurst was “unable to accept… the proposition that Ms Folbigg was anything but a caring mother for her children.”
  • In relation to the death of a fourth child, Mr Bathurst found that “the coincidence and tendency evidence which was central to the (2003) Crown case falls away.”
  • In relation to Ms Folbigg’s diary entries, evidence suggests they were the writings of a grieving and possibly depressed mother, blaming herself for each child’s death, as distinct from admissions that she murdered or otherwise harmed them.

More to come…

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