Mother who served 20 years for deaths of her 4 babies has convictions quashed

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A top Australian court on Thursday quashed all the convictions against a woman who spent 20 years in prison over the deaths of her four children.

Kathleen Folbigg, 56, was pardoned and released from prison in June after an inquiry found there was “reasonable doubt” as to whether she was responsible for the deaths of her children, who all died before their 2nd birthdays.

Once branded by the news media as Australia’s “worst female serial killer,” Folbigg maintained her innocence throughout. Speaking outside the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal in Sydney on Thursday, she said prosecutors had “cherry-picked” entries in her diary to secure the 2003 conviction that found her guilty of killing her children.

“They took my words out of context and turned them against me,” she told local reporters.

An Australian mom was convicted of killing her 4 babies. Scientists say she’s innocent.

The diary entries were central to the prosecution’s case, in a trial that was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the argument that four deaths within the same family could not have happened by chance.

“I knew I was short-tempered and cruel sometimes to her and she left. With a bit of help,” she wrote in one diary entry about her daughter, Sarah, that drew scrutiny during the trial.

The jury concluded that she had smothered the children, who were found, one after the other, lifeless in their cribs between 1989 and 1999: Caleb at 19 days, Patrick at eight months, Sarah at 10 months and Laura at 18 months.

Folbigg was sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder and manslaughter, a sentence that was reduced to a minimum of 25 years on appeal.

In a 2018 documentary, she said the diary entries were written “from a point of me always blaming myself” — a trait experts say is common in bereaved parents.

“I took so much of the responsibility, because that’s, as mothers, what you do,” Folbigg said in the documentary.

Kathleen Folbigg, an Australian woman who served twenty years behind bars for killing her four children, was pardoned June 5 after new evidence emerged. (Video: Reuters)

Doubts about her conviction grew in recent years as new science emerged.

In 2021, dozens of scientists — including two Nobel laureates — petitioned the state governor to request that Folbigg be pardoned and released. They argued that there was “significant positive evidence of natural causes of death” after finding rare genetic mutations in the DNA of Folbigg and her daughters as well as variants in her sons’ DNA that have been connected to deaths in young children.

In November, the final report of an inquiry into the case found there was an “identifiable cause” for three of the children’s deaths and that Folbigg’s relationship with her children did not support the case that she killed them.

The overturning of Folbigg’s convictions creates a path for her to seek compensation over her wrongful imprisonment. Representatives for Folbigg didn’t respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

In a statement to the Guardian newspaper, her attorney, Rhanee Rego, suggested that it could be “bigger than any substantial payment that has been made before.”

Brittany Shammas and Bryan Pietsch contributed to this report.

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