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Australian Inquiry asks whether mother strangled her 4 children

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Australian Inquiry asks whether mother strangled her 4 children

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An Australian investigation on Monday launched an investigation into whether a woman convicted of killing four of her children nearly two decades ago could be innocent.

The investigation by retired New South Wales State Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Bathurst is the second judicial inquiry into the 2003 conviction of Kathleen Folbigg’s and reflects advances in genetic science that give weight to her argument that her children died of natural causes.

The first investigation by retired District Court Chief Justice Reginald Blanch concluded in 2019 that there was no reasonable doubt that Folbigg, now 55, killed her children Sarah, Laura and Patrick and committed suicide after her first-born. was convicted of Caleb’s murder.

New investigations launched in Sydney focus on a rare CALM2 genetic variant present in both daughters. Research into the variant published last year after Blanch’s report, found it could cause heart arrhythmias and sudden death in young children, Sophie Callen, a lawyer assisting the investigation, said at the start of the hearing.

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Callan said, “The central question at all times has been whether Ms. Folbig caused the deaths of one or more of her four children or whether they died of natural causes”.

While 22 medical experts testified at her trial in 2003, many experts in the medical and scientific fields have since provided reports supporting Folbigg’s case.

“This body of medical and scientific evidence is weighty and warrants consideration of Ms. Folbigg’s beliefs,” Callen said.

“However, it is not the only source of evidence relevant to the question of her guilty. Another significant category of evidence were diaries and journals she maintained when the children were alive,” Callan added.

Callan said the second phase of the investigation, set to begin in February, would focus on the dairies, which prosecutors presented at their trial as an “intimate, personal and precise analysis  of their thinking”.

Prosecutors “characterized certain entries in her diaries, particularly in combination, as admissions of guilt, suggesting the diaries were the strongest evidence that you could possibly have for Ms. Folbigg having murdered her four children,” Callan said.

Caleb was born in 1989 and died 19 days later, with a jury determining a lesser charge of murder. Their second child, Patrick, was 8 months old when she died in 1991. Two years later, Sarah died at the age of 10 months. In 1999, Folbig’s fourth child, Laura, died at the age of 19 months.

Prosecutors told her jury the number of similarities among the deaths made coincidence an improbable explanation.

Similarities include that all died unexpectedly at the age of less than 2 years. Folbig was home alone or awake when the children died and they were always warm to the touch. She lived with her ex-husband, Craig Folbig at the time.

On three occasions, she said she discovered the deaths during trips to the bathroom and once while checking on a child’s wellbeing.

Except in Laura’s case, Folbigg never helped them, Callan said.

Prosecutors offered the jury three options: the children died of identified natural causes, unidentified natural causes or deliberate suffocation by their mother.

Some medical experts testifying at her trial cited Meadow’s Law, an approach to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, named after British pediatrician Samuel Roy Meadow.

As Callan describes the theory, the first unexpected death of an infant in a family may be attributed to SIDS, the second should be labeled undetermined and the third should be considered homicide until proven otherwise.

Callan stated that the argument had been widely discredited and urged Bathurst to disavow any expert evidence relying on that argument.

“It could be described as unscientific and, in a legal context, wholy inconsistent with the prosecution baring the burden of proof and the accused person’s entitlement to the presumption of innocence,” Callan said.

Folbigg’s is serving a 30-year prison sentence which will expire in 2033. She will become eligible for parole in 2028.

She watched Monday’s hearing online from prison. The hearing was adjourned to Monday afternoon to continue on Tuesday.

New South Wales Attorney General Mark Speakman ordered a new investigation in May after he rejected Folbigg’s plea for pardon.

She watched Monday’s hearing online from prison. The hearing was adjourned Monday afternoon to continue on Tuesday.

New South Wales Attorney General Mark Speakman ordered the new inquiry in May when he rejected Folbigg’s petition for a pardon.

The petition was “based on significant positive evidence of natural causes of death” and was signed by 90 scientists, physicians and related professionals.

If Bathurst has reasonable doubts about Folbigg’s guilt, he can report to the Court of Criminal Appeals which may consider quashing his sentence.

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