Under the aegis of the Australian Academy of Science, leading Australian scientists yesterday renewed their 4 March petition for the pardon of Kathleen Folbigg, and her release from jail.
The March petition, whose signatories include Nobel Laureates Elizabeth Blackburn and Peter Doherty, cited new genetic evidence suggesting Folbigg’s four children, whom she was convicted of killing in 2003, may have died from natural causes.
The scientists’ call came at the same time that News Limited released a four-page handwritten letter that Folbigg had sent to New South Wales Attorney-General Mark Speakman, who is considering the petition, and who will in due course advise NSW Governor Margaret Beazley on a response.
The genetic evidence came from research into mutations in a protein called calmodulin, which has many functions around the body, the most important of which is to transport calcium around cells to convey cellular signals. This affects many different types of proteins and cellular processes. It helps muscle contraction, metabolism and even memory. (For more detail, read our explainer about calmodulin and genetic mutation.)
Just three weeks after the petition was presented, the NSW Court of Appeal released its decision to dismiss Folbigg’s appeal to overturn the findings of a 2019 inquiry into her conviction. Folbigg’s legal team responded with a statement pointing out that the appeal decision shouldn’t affect the petition for pardon, and that it didn’t end the legal avenues available to Folbigg.
Read more: Behind the science of the Folbigg petition
In April, the Australian Academy of Science offered to arrange a briefing for Speakman by scientists with expertise in genetics and statistics, to explain the genetic evidence that had been uncovered.
The NSW Attorney-General declined that briefing and instead requested the new evidence be submitted via Ms Folbigg’s legal representatives, which they did in June.
Australian Academy of Science President Professor John Shine is among the petition signatories and says there is very reasonable doubt about Folbigg’s conviction.
“The NSW Attorney-General now has sufficient medical and scientific evidence before him that provides an alternative explanation for the deaths of the Folbigg children, that carries more weight than the circumstantial evidence used to convict her,” Shine says.
“Our offer to the NSW Attorney-General to facilitate a scientific briefing stands. These matters can appear complex to a non-scientific audience.”
Shine also called on the federal and state and territory attorneys general to consider legal reform in the way that science can be presented to courts of law, and by whom: “To ensure miscarriages of justice like this are prevented in the future.”
“I pay homage to all scientists involved,” wrote Folbigg in her letter to Speakman. “They have removed the stigma of being perceived as an evil monster, removed the anxiety and fear that I have suffered every day for over 30 odd years.
“You are empowered by the people of NSW to do the correct and right thing. If you doubt my innocence, I implore you to heed to advice of Proff John Shine… and all other experts being provided to you. And join with them to understand the FACTS.”
Ian Connellan is editor-in-chief of the Royal Institution of Australia.
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