Australian Woman Convicted of Killing Her 4 Babies Is Innocent, Scientists Say

Kathleen Folbigg was convicted in 2003 of smothering her four children.
Kathleen Folbigg was convicted in 2003 of smothering her children.Getty

Kathleen Folbigg is considered one of Australia's most notorious female killers. She was convicted of smothering her four children, one after the other, in 2003.

Caleb was just 19 days old when his mother found him lifeless in his crib. Patrick died at eight months. Sarah stopped breathing at 10 months and Laura perished at 19 months.

Kathleen Folbigg found each of her children dead in their beds, one after the other, over the span of a decade. In 2003, she was convicted of manslaughter in Caleb's death, and of murdering the three babies who followed him. She was sentenced to 40 years in prison. On appeal, that term was reduced to 30 years.

Folbigg was vilified as Australia's “worst female serial killer” and its “most hated woman.” Now, 90 scientists have signed a petition asking the governor of New South Wales to pardon the 53-year-old woman, saying the babies were not the victims of murder or manslaughter but of natural causes, mostly likely the result of genetic abnormalities.

“Ms. Folbigg has suffered and continues to suffer emotional and psychological trauma and physical abuse in custody,” the petition said. “She has endured the death of her four children and has been wrongfully incarcerated because the justice system has failed her.”

Ninety international scientists signed the document, including two Nobel laureates and the president of the Australian Academy of Science. They are from Australia and eight other countries. Four are Americans.

"There is no medical evidence" supporting the assertions of prosecutors that Folbigg smothered her babies, the petition said.

In 2018, geneticists discovered Sarah and Laura both had a genetic mutation in the CALM2 gene, which can cause sudden death in infants and children, the petition said. Scientists are still working to determine if the boys also had similar genetic abnormalities, the petition said.

An autopsy performed after Patrick's death at eight months showed he suffered from epilepsy. Caleb's death at 19 days old was attributed to sudden infant death syndrome.

During her highly publicized trial, prosecutors said it stretched credulity to believe all four of Folbigg's children died by accident. They also pointed to her diaries, which her husband read after the last death and called police, and entries she made about being a terrible mother.

One entry said, "Obviously, I am my father's daughter." Prosecutors asserted that was Folbigg acknowledging she had "inherited the sin of killing" from her father, Thomas Britton, who stabbed Folbigg’s mother to death in 1968, when Folbigg was 18 months old.

In 2019, Folbigg denied that assertion during a court hearing. "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,” Folbigg said.

The mother has consistently denied hurting her children, but the courts have upheld her convictions.

Most recently, just weeks after the petition was sent in March, a three-judge panel rejected her appeal of a 2019 inquiry that affirmed the jury’s verdict.

The petition for her pardon is under review by the governor's office in New South Wales.

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