Mother who served 20 years imprisonment for killing her four babies pardoned after court rules that no evidence proved she committed the crime
A woman regarded as Australia’s worst female serial killer has been pardoned after serving 20 years behind bars for killing her four children in what appears to be one of the country’s gravest miscarriages of justice.
New South Wales Attorney General Michael Daley on Monday, June 5 said he intervened to order Kathleen Folbigg be freed, based on the preliminary findings of an inquiry that had found “reasonable doubt” as to her guilt for all four deaths.
Kathleen Folbigg was jailed in 2003 on three counts of murder and one of manslaughter following the deaths of her four babies over a decade from 1989. In each case, she was the person who found their bodies, though there was no physical evidence that she had caused their deaths.
To convict Folbigg, the jury relied on the prosecution’s argument that the chances of four babies from one family dying from natural causes before the age of 2 were as low as the possibility of pigs flying.
The jury also used the contents of her diary, which contained passages that in isolation at the time were interpreted as confessions of guilt.
Daley told a news conference Monday that he had spoken to the governor and recommended an unconditional pardon, which had been granted, and she would be released from Clarence Correctional Center the same day.
“This has been a terrible ordeal for everyone concerned and I hope that our actions today can put some closure on this 20-year-old matter,” said Daley, who added that he had informed Craig Folbigg, the babies’ father, of his decision. “It will be a tough day for him,” he said.
As recently as 2019, an inquiry into her convictions found there was no reasonable doubt she had committed the crimes. But another inquiry began in 2022 after new scientific evidence emerged that provided a genetic explanation for the children’s deaths. Meaning a genetic problem could have caused the death of all four children.
In her closing submissions, Sophie Callan, the lead counsel assisting the inquiry, said that “on the whole of the body of evidence before this inquiry there is a reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg’s guilt.”
She also told the inquiry that in its closing submissions, the NSW director of public prosecutions had indicated she was also “open to the Inquiry to conclude there is reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg’s guilt.”
Folbigg was just 20 years old when she married Craig Folbigg, who she’d met in her hometown of Newcastle on the northern New South Wales coast.
Within a year Folbigg fell pregnant with Caleb, who was born in February, 1989 and lived only 19 days. The next year, the Folbiggs had another son, Patrick, who died at eight months. Two years later, Sarah died at 10 months. Then in 1999, the couple’s fourth and longest lived child, Laura, died at 18 months.
The police investigation into the deaths of all four children began the day Laura died, but it was more than two years before Folbigg was arrested and charged for alleged murders. By then, the couple’s marriage had fallen apart, and Craig was cooperating with police to build a case against her.
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Craig handed police her diaries, which prosecutors argued contained the deepest thoughts of a mother tortured by guilt for her role in her children’s deaths.
Examination of the babies’ remains failed to find any physical evidence they’d been suffocated, but without another plausible reason to explain their deaths, suspicion focused on Kathleen, their primary carer.
In 2003, as he sentenced Folbigg to 40 years in prison, Judge Graham Barr recalled her troubled past. Folbigg’s father had killed her mother when she was just 18 months old, and she had spent many of her years growing up in foster care.
According to court documents, Barr said Folbigg’s prospects of rehabilitation were “negligible.”
“She will always be a danger if given the responsibility of caring for a child,” he said. “That must never happen.”
That initial conviction ruling is now totally different from the latest inquiry, that paints Folbigg as a loving mother who was devastated and confused by the successive deaths of her babies.
As he ordered her release Monday, Attorney General Daley distributed a memorandum of the findings by retired judge Tom Bathurst, who said after reviewing the evidence he was “unable to accept … the proposition that Ms Folbigg was anything but a caring mother for her children.”
In the case of the two girls, Sarah and Laura – Bathurst found there was a “reasonable possibility” a genetic mutation known as CALM2-G114R “occasioned their deaths,” and that Sarah may have died from myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, identified during her autopsy.
In the case of Patrick, who had an unexplained ALTE, an apparent life-threatening event, when he was 4 months old and died at 8 months, Bathurst found that it’s possible his death was caused by an underlying neurogenic disorder.
During Folbigg’s 2003 trial, the prosecution used “coincidence and tendency” evidence to allege that Folbigg had also killed Caleb. In other words, that having been allegedly responsible for the deaths of three children, it was likely she killed him, too.
However, Bathurst found that the reasonable doubt over Folbigg’s role in his siblings’ deaths meant that the prosecution’s case against her for Caleb’s murder “falls away.”
In relation to her diaries, Bathurst said the “evidence suggests they were the writings of a grieving and possibly depressed mother, blaming herself for the death of each child, as distinct from admissions that she murdered or otherwise harmed them.”
Bathurst also expressed doubts about evidence from Craig Folbigg, who had claimed his wife had been “ill-tempered” with their children and had “growled at them from time to time.”
“The balance of evidence … (was) that she was a loving and caring mother,” wrote Bathurst, whose full report will be released later.
Daley told reporters Monday that Folbigg’s pardon only meant she did not have to serve the rest of her sentence, and that it would be up to the Court of Criminal Appeal to quash her convictions.
He said it was too early to talk about compensation, as that would require Folbigg to initiate civil proceedings against the New South Wales government.
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