Kathleen Folbigg Most Hated Woman Wrongfully jailed for 20 years Kathleen Folbigg was reviled as the baby killer in Australia and was dubbed the “most disliked woman” after she was found guilty in 2003 of the murder of 3 of her kids as well as for manslaughter in the case of another.
On Thursday Folbigg’s convictions were struck down through an appeals tribunal after an investigation which reviewed new scientific evidence and concluded there was no reasonable doubt about her guilt.
She was pardoned in the past after her release from jail in June, after 20 years in prison.
The trial could lead to the largest compensation amount for wrongful convictions in Australia as well as a rebuke for the legal system in Australia.
“For more than a quarter century, I was confronted with indignation and hostility,” Folbigg said after she was cleared.
“I was a victim of brutal abuse of all kinds. I hoped and prayed one day I’d be standing in this place with my name unmistakably cleared. I hope that nobody else has to endure what I went through.”
“They snatched phrases and words in my journal’
Folbigg’s initial guilty verdict did not come from medical evidence to explain how her four children were Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura were killed between the years of 1989-99 between 19 and 18 months.
Instead the prosecution rely in large part on the diary entries as confessions of guilt. There was no journaling, trauma expert or mourning experts were summoned to testify.
Folbigg’s trial was also based upon Meadow’s Law – a controversial and discredited notion that said three or more infant deaths within a single family was murder until proved otherwise.
In a diary entry in 1998, about Laura who was one of her last children to pass away Folbigg wrote “I shouted so violently that she was scared she couldn’t stop crying. It got so bad that I almost intentionally threw her down on the ground and took her away.”
“I was able to hold her back enough to place her on the ground and leave. I went to my room and let her be crying. It was probably 5 minutes, but it felt to be a long time. The feeling is that I’m the most awful mother ever. I am afraid that she will be gone soon. Like Sarah did. I knew that I was a bit irritable and cruel occasionally to her. She quit. With a bit of assistance.”
Folbigg on Thursday alleged that the prosecutor of stealing her words in a different context.
“They picked phrases and words from my notebooks. These books held my personal thoughts, which I wrote myself to,” she said.
“No one would ever expect those kinds of items to get read and understood by people who aren’t even acquaintances or even questioned about. They removed my words from context and resorted to using the words against me. I was accused of doing something I have never written about I never did, never did and never would have done.”
Two-decade fight for Folbigg a ‘herculean effort’
It wasn’t just the legal system working in the way it should have that led to Folbigg ultimately released according to her attorney, Rhanee Rego, who has been working pro-bono since 2017.
Australia does not have an independent body that investigates possible mistakes in justice as opposed to those in the UK, US, New Zealand and Canada which all have independent commissions that review convictions.
As Rego said Folbigg’s story was founded upon “a large group of honest people who recognized injustice and took action to stop it”.
Another included Emma Cunliffe, a justice expert from the University of British Columbia who in 2011 published Murder, Medicine and Motherhood regarding Folbigg’s trial.
The court argued that she was wrongly found guilty and that the diary entries weren’t the work of a guilt-ridden woman but of grieving mom trying to understand her grief.
She pointed out the misogynistic motives in Folbigg’s case, pointing out that typical behavior like working part-time and placing kids in childcare for her so that she could exercise were seen as suspect in the courtroom.
The breakthrough occurred in the year the year 2018 when studies conducted by a group of experts, which included immunologist Prof. Carola Vinuesa, found Folbigg, as well as her two daughters Sarah and Laura Laura and Sarah had the rare genetic mutation called CALM2-G114R. The research suggested that there was a good chance the deaths were caused by natural causes.
Vinuesa testified during an hearing in the hearing into the Folbigg conviction. The inquiry also looked at evidence from the first trial and confirmed the guilt of Folbigg.
The evidence of genetics and new medical research conducted by a multinational team of researchers – which included finding that the twins, Caleb and Patrick, were carriers of variants of the gene known as BSN “shown to trigger early-onset epilepsy that kills mice” The issue was again brought up in a different investigation earlier in the year.
The incident was triggered from prominent researchers who pleaded for the release of Folbigg based on solid evidence that showed her children died from natural causes. In the 2023 investigation, it was found that there was a reasonable doubt about Folbigg’s convictions. In June Folbigg was pardoned and released from jail.
One of Folbigg’s most vocal advocates was his childhood acquaintance Tracy Chapman who always believed she was innocent. For the past 20 years, she was Folbigg’s biggest advocate. Chapman endured threats to kill and insults as he backed Folbigg in failed appeals.
“The 20 years of fighting for Kathleen is a tremendous task,” she said. “It resulted in job losses in the process, income losses and broken relationships and lives. It also demanded a lot of mental toughness.”
Folbigg stated that she was thankful the latest research in genetics and science had given answers to the question of what caused her children’s deaths. However, she said that the legal explanations were available to establish her innocence in 1999.
“They were not acknowledged and dismissed,” she said. “The system was more inclined to blame me, rather than admit that children sometimes are able to die suddenly in unexpected, heartbreaking ways.”
A review of the legal system in Australia : Kathleen Folbigg Most Hated Woman Wrongfully jailed for 20 years
However, Folbigg believes she is to be one of the “lucky people“.
“I am able with the help of others to get my life back on track. However, there are many people who don’t have the same chance. We should be humble and willing to improve the system so that truth is disclosed because truth and proper legal outcome are important.”
Rego the lawyer believes that the case could be the pivotal event which will require Australia to create an independent body like Britain’s Criminal Cases Review Commission.
“While this is the story of Kathleen it illustrates the larger issues within our legal system, namely the review system is poorly designed and that is not able to identify and rectifying miscarriages in justice.”
Rego claimed that since her convictions have been quashed and she believes there must be a compensation through the State. Rego would not provide any figure on it, but said it would have to be “bigger than any other substantial amount which has been paid before”.
The NSW attorney general, Michael Daley, said the government will consider compensation requests.
“After everything that has transpired in the last 20 years, it’s hard not to be filled with immense compassion for everyone affected,” he said.
Folbigg was released from her prison cell in the month of June, she retreated to Chapman’s farm in order to recuperate while spending time with the people who stood with her.
“My children are with me today and will remain in my heart throughout my existence,” she said on Thursday. “I loved my kids and always will.”
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