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Crime News Family Crimes

Woman Pardoned after 20 Years in Jail for the Killing of Her Four Children

In 2003, Kathleen Folbigg was convicted for the deaths of her four kids. New evidence has cast doubt on her guilt. 

By Elisabeth Ford
6 Wrongful Convictions That Were Overturned

Australian mother Kathleen Folbigg was pardoned and released from prison Monday after new evidence showed “reasonable doubt” of her guilt in the killing of her four children.

In a Monday news conference, New South Wales Attorney General Michael Daley announced the grant of Folbigg’s “unconditional pardon” after analyzing the preliminary findings of a review into her conviction, initiated by former state chief justice Thomas Bathurst.

“I consider that his [Bathurst] reasons establish exceptional circumstances of the kind that weigh heavily in favor of the grant of the free pardon, and in the interest of justice, Miss Folbigg should be released from custody as soon as possible,” Daley said.

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Her unconditional pardon does not quash her convictions but grants her freedom from serving the rest of her sentence.

Kathleen Folbigg

The individual deaths of Folbigg’s children spanned a decade, according to the Associated Press. All died before the age of 2.

Caleb, Folbigg’s first child, died in 1989 at 19 days old. Her second child Patrick died in 1991 at 8 months old. Her daughter Sarah died at 10 months old two years later. Laura, her last child, died in 1999 at 19 months old, according to the AP.

In 2003, Folbigg was convicted on one count of manslaughter for the death of her son Caleb, and three counts of murder for the death of her three children, Laura, Sarah and Patrick. After her trial, Folbigg was characterized as Australia’s “worst female serial killer,” according to The Guardian.

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However, after spending nearly 20 years in prison, more than 90 eminent scientists and medical professionals signed a petition calling on the attorney general of New South Wales to pardon and free Folbigg based on recently discovered genetic abnormalities in her children that could have explained their deaths.

In 2019, a team of scientists found that Folbigg’s two daughters carried a rare genetic mutation that could cause various heart problems. Bathurst also suggested that her son may have had “underlying neurogenic disorder.” This evidence initiated an inquiry into Folbigg’s case and was the catalyst for the petition to free her.

“I am grateful as well, I think all citizens should be, that the review provisions are available in New South Wales to ensure that, where circumstances arise like these ones, justice can be ultimately done,” Daley said. “Even if it takes a long time.”

While scientists and other professionals are hoping for change after this “miscarriage of justice,” per the petition, Daley said this case is one to learn from and is open to amending the law to avoid another case like Folbigg.

In terms of further action, Daley said it is up to Folbigg whether she would like to pursue civil proceedings against the state of New South Wales for compensation, but it has not been discussed.

“It 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,” Daley added.

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