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'Worst Female Serial Killer' May See Pardon After Genome Research Discovery

“In genetics, one-off events are commonplace,” wrote one scientist, petitioning for Kathleen Folbigg’s release.

By Dorian Geiger
Scientists Urge Pardon Of Australia’s ‘Worst Female Serial Killer'

An Australian mother who was convicted of smothering four infants to death in the 1990s should be pardoned because her children may have actually died of natural causes, according to a growing chorus of leading scientists.

Kathleen Folbigg’s children had rare genetic conditions that may have contributed to their deaths, as outlined in a new petition signed by 90 scientists and researchers pushing for her release, The Guardian reported

The petition, which blasts Folbigg’s conviction nearly two decades ago as a “miscarriage of justice,” calls for the 53-year-old mother's immediate release. It was sent to the governor of New South Wales last week.

Folbigg was convicted for suffocating her four children — Caleb, Patrick, Sarah, and Elizabeth — between 1989 and 1999. The children were between the ages of 19 days and 19 months.

The petition, signed by two Nobel laureates, came after new genetic sequencing research suggested Folbigg may not be criminally responsible for her children’s deaths.

None of Folbigg’s infants were healthy when they died, and there was no specific medical evidence of smothering, according to the petition. Her children's medical condition included blindness, epilepsy, and respiratory infections, autopsies later found, as the New York Times reported

After sequencing Folbigg’s genome, scientists discovered she had a relatively unheard-of genetic mutation known as the CALM2 gene, which may have caused her children’s deaths, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Blood and tissue samples confirmed they, too, had the genetic mutation.

The mutation is known to trigger cardiac arrest in babies. Globally, less than 100 people have been found to have the CALM2 gene. 

“In genetics, one-off events are commonplace,” one expert who signed off on the petition said, according to the Guardian

Folbigg was found guilty in 2003, according to the London Times. She was branded by tabloids as the “worst female serial killer” in Australian history. She’s maintained her innocence throughout a number of failed appeals. 

“We would feel exhilarated for Kathleen if she is pardoned,” Carola Vinuesa, an immunologist who researched Folbigg’s case, told the New York Times. “It would send a very strong message that science needs to be taken seriously by the legal system.”

During Folbigg’s trial, prosecutors flatly dismissed the possibility that the deaths of so many children in one family could be anything but murder.

“There has never, ever been in the history of medicine any case like this,” one prosecutor said. “It is not a reasonable doubt, it is preposterous.”

Folbigg was assaulted by a fellow inmate on on New Year’s Day after being transferred to a new correctional facility, the New Zealand Herald reported.

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