New scientific evidence brings 2003 conviction into question: Did Kathleen Folbigg smother 4 of her children?

May 18, 2021

New scientific evidence brings 2003 conviction into question: Did Kathleen Folbigg smother 4 of her children?

In 2003 Kathleen Folbigg of New South Wales, Australia, was convicted of smothering her children and sentenced to 40 years in prison for one count of manslaughter and three counts of murder.

Caleb Folbigg was less than three weeks old when he died on 20 February 1989. His cause of death was first ruled as sudden infant death syndrome.

Patrick Folbigg was just eight months old in October 1990 when he too suffered respiratory issues and was rushed to hospital in the early hours of the morning. Kathleen told a doctor that Patrick had been coughing in his sleep on the night he was rushed to hospital. Although initially the child’s condition seemed to improve on admission to the hospital, he suffered an infection and epileptic seizure and was also diagnosed with blindness. Kathleen was struggling to cope with the situation and privately penned thoughts of wanting to leave her child and husband, whom she thought would be better off without her. Then, in February of 1991, Patrick was found lifeless and blue in his cot. He was later pronounced dead, and the cause of death was determined to be cardiac arrest.

Sarah Folbigg was just ten months old when she died in 1993. She showed early signs of sleep apnea, for which she was monitored. She died during the early hours of the morning on 29 August 1993. The cause of death was officially recorded as unknown natural causes. Petechial hemorrhage was listed on the autopsy report as well as small abrasions around the child’s lips and mouth. A petechial hemorrhage can happen for several reasons, ranging from medication and infections to straining and coughing. Minor pulmonary edema was also noted, a condition where fluid enters the lungs.

Kathleen and her husband, Craig Folbigg, did not conceive another child until 1997. The deaths of their previous children had put a great strain on their marriage and the pair split up and reunited several times. They eventually reconciled and moved to Singleton, New South Wales, where they had their fourth child, who they named Laura, born August 7, 1997. Laura, who also suffered sleep apnea, was monitored during the early stages of her life, but she too would die at age 1 ½ of undetermined causes.

Kathleen’s husband reported that she had become increasingly frustrated with their daughter. He reportedly noted that Kathleen would be “physically violent towards Laura”. Craig Folbigg later found Kathleen’s journals and was concerned by some of the contents. Kathleen’s father had stabbed her mother to death when Kathleen was a toddler. In one journal entry she wrote: “Obviously, I am my father’s daughter.” The journal entries were presented as admissions of guilt on Kathleen’s part; however, she did not explicitly admit to killing any of her children in her writing.

When questioned about the statement, Folbigg said: “I believed and thought at the time that my father's actions ruined my life and my life never seemed to go right from there.”

Brian Doyle, Kathleen Folbigg's solicitor at the time of her trial, argued: "Every one of the children was in fact ill in their lifetime before their death. So, what we have got at the end, wholly and solely, is coincidences."

Kathleen Folbigg was found guilty of murdering her children on 21 May 2003. The court accused Folbigg of smothering her children. She was sentenced to 40 years without the chance of parole for 30 years. Following an appeal in 2005 her sentence was set at thirty years with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Now a controversial principle, Meadows law was cited at trial by the prosecution. Meadow's law, which states it is not probable that multiple children of a family can die as a result of sudden infant death and should be treated as nefarious rather than coincidental or otherwise, is a principle that was later brought into disrepute and is no longer a supported theory by those in the medical field.

Recently, an inquiry into Kathleen Folbigg’s guilt has come into question, and reports state that a petition has been signed by 91 scientists, two of which are Nobel laureates, calling for Kathleen to be pardoned of the crimes. They argue that there is no medical evidence to show that Folbigg smothered her children other than circumstantial evidence provided at the trial. They added that the children could have died due to genetic causes. None of the children lived to see their second birthday. Both Kathleen’s daughters, and Kathleen herself, were later found to be carrying the protein Calmodulin 2, or CALM2 G114R variant, a gene connected to cardiac arrhythmia, which causes an irregular heartbeat and is often present in infants who die from sudden infant death syndrome. An in depth look into the gene studied by Danish scientists revealed that rare mutations and genetic variants could likely be responsible for the children’s deaths.

The Folbigg’s sons, Patrick and Caleb, were both found to have a 420-kD protein, Bassoon Presynaptic Cytomatrix Protein gene, which they may have inherited from their father.

Although the scientific data was provided at an appeal in March 2021, the appeal was rejected.

"It is deeply concerning that medical and scientific evidence has been ignored, in preference of circumstantial evidence. We now have an alternative explanation for the death of the Folbigg children" Professor Fiona Stanley, a Child and public health researcher, recently told the BBC.

The case has once again garnered international attention but this time for different reasons. Once the most hated woman in Australia, Kathleen Folbigg is now at the center of what many believe could be one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in recent Australian history. Folbigg, who was branded a serial killer at trial, has spent 18 years behind bars.

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