A mother branded “Australia’s worst female serial killer” after being convicted of smothering her four children has been pardoned after nearly 20 years in jail.
Kathleen Folbigg, 55, spent almost two decades behind bars for murdering her children Patrick, Sarah and Laura – aged from eight months to 19 months –between 1991 and 1999.
She was also found guilty in 2003 of the manslaughter of her first-born child, Caleb, who was just 19 days old when he died in Newcastle, north of Sydney, in 1989.
But Folbigg has always maintained her innocence and lodged repeated appeals to overturn her convictions.
A 2019 inquiry into her conviction reinforced her guilt but a second probe conducted in 2022 suggested two of the children’s deaths were caused by a genetic mutation.
New South Wales attorney general Michael Daley said the probe had found reasonable doubt in the convictions, adding “given all that has happened.. it’s impossible not to feel sympathy for Kathleen”.
She was released from prison in Grafton, New South Wales, yesterday, a decade before her jail term was due to expire and five years before she would have become eligible for parole.
She said: “I am so elated, it is not funny. And I am nervous and I am everything. I’m still like, ‘Is this even happening? Oh my God’.”
Ms Folbigg said she planned to enjoy a T-bone steak and some fresh pyjamas on her first night of freedom.
Television footage also showed her marvelling at being able to use a metal spoon to stir her tea – something she was not allowed in prison.
Ms Folbigg said: “I can’t thank everybody enough for all of the support, and all the hard work that has gone into reaching this moment.
“I’m beyond happy, it’s ridiculous. I’m in shock, so thank you.”
Previous appeals and the inquiry carried out into the case in 2019 found no grounds for reasonable doubt.
But a new inquiry headed by retired judge Tom Bathurst advised there was a reasonable possibility three of the children had died of natural causes.
Sarah and Laura Folbigg’s deaths may have been caused by a genetic mutation known as CALM2-G114R that can cause sudden cardiac arrest.
Meanwhile, Patrick Folbigg may have been killed by an underlying neurogenetic disorder such as epilepsy. In relation to the death of Caleb, the inquiry found that “the coincidence and tendency evidence which was central to the Crown case falls away”.
Mr Bathurst said he was unable to accept the proposition that Ms Folbigg was “anything but a caring mother for her children”.
He also said the diary entries used to convict her in which the mother blamed herself for the deaths of her children were the writings of a grieving and possibly depressed person rather than admissions of harm or murder.
Mr Daley said: “We’ve got four little bubbas who are dead. We have a husband and wife who lost each other, a woman who spent 20 years in jail and a family that never had a chance.
“You’d not be human if you didn’t feel something about that.”
Peter Yates, a friend of Ms Folbigg, mentioned the possibility of compensation. He said: “I think people in New South Wales would expect that compensation to be very, very significant.”
The pardon does not strike out Ms Folbigg’s convictions, a decision to be taken by the Court of Criminal Appeal.
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