‘Very hopeful’: Folbigg awaits decision
For 20 years Kathleen Folbigg has been branded Australia’s worst female serial killer, but she now stands on the edge of having her name cleared and being released from prison.
An inquiry into her convictions has this week been told there was now widespread reasonable doubt that she killed her four young children, prompting her supporters to call for her immediate release.
Folbigg’s long-time friend Tracy Chapman called on NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley to “do the right thing” and recommend she be granted an immediate pardon.
“You’ve got an innocent woman in prison,” Ms Chapman said on Thursday afternoon following the conclusion of the long-running inquiry.
“She doesn’t belong there. Let her come home to me now.”
Her solicitor Rhanee Rego said Folbigg “was cautious but feels very hopeful.”
“I think you could properly describe (her) as cautiously optimistic given the nature of the long-standing history of her case,” Ms Rego told ABC’s 7.30.
In a red letter day for Folbigg’s supporters, barrister Dean Jordan, representing the Director of Public Prosecutions, said during his closing submissions to the inquiry that fresh scientific evidence meant that reasonable doubt now existed.
“The director now accepts that on the evidence now available, it is open for Your Honour to conclude that there is reasonable doubt as to the guilt of Ms Folbigg in relation to the offences for which she was previously convicted arising from the deaths of her children,” Mr Jordan said.
It comes after counsel assisting the inquiry, Sophie Callan SC, also said reasonable doubt existed that Folbigg had murdered her children Patrick, Sarah and Laura and was responsible for the manslaughter of her son Caleb.
On Thursday, former Supreme Court justice Tom Bathurst KC, who is overseeing the inquiry, noted that “a significant body of evidence” now suggested that the Folbigg children died of natural causes.
Following the end of the inquiry on Thursday, Mr Bathurst will hand down his report at a later date.
If he finds that there is a reasonable doubt about Folbigg’s guilt, he can refer the matter to the Court of Criminal Appeal, where her convictions could be quashed.
He also has the power to recommend to the Governor that she issue an immediate pardon.
While the timetable remains unclear, outside the inquiry on Thursday afternoon, Ms Rego said that in light of the day’s developments “she should be freed today”.
“In the next few hours – and Mr Daley has the power to do that,” Ms Rego said.
“The Attorney-General has the power to at any time recommend a pardon to the Governor, and we call on him to do that immediately.”
Asked whether the government would issue Folbigg with a pardon, Premier Chris Minns on Thursday said: “I’m not going to prejudge the inquiry or the inquiry’s recommendations.
“It’s important they take place outside of the political conversation.
Folbigg was in 2003 jailed for 30 years for the murder of Patrick (eight months), Laura (10 months) and Sarah (19 months) as well as the manslaughter of her eldest son Caleb (19 days).
However, the inquiry has raised doubts as to whether the children were killed and instead died due to natural causes.
Throughout three criminal trials and an initial judicial inquiry in 2019, Folbigg has said that she did not kill her four children, who all died between 1989 and 1999.
Over the last 20 years, she has maintained her innocence and is fighting to be freed.
A second inquiry was last year called following lobbying from the scientific community after the discovery of fresh genetic evidence.
A string of experts has given evidence about a genetic mutation - known as CALM2 G114R - and said it could have resulted in the deaths of Laura and Sarah.
New expert medical evidence published in March 2021 showed that Sarah and Laura Folbigg carried the CALM2 genetic mutation, which can cause cardiac problems, irregular heartbeats and lead to sudden death.
Ms Callan also said that Patrick’s sudden death may have been caused by an epilepsy.
Mr Jordan told the court on Thursday that the evidence about the CALM variant had only emerged over the last several years.
“That evidence from eminent expert witnesses, in relation to the CALM2 genetic variant is only now available as a result of this inquiry,” Mr Jordan said.
Mr Jordan described the evidence as “a critical and new development” and “beyond contemplation” of what was available in 2003 when Folbigg was convicted and jailed.
“What we now know about this rare genetic variant fundamentally changes our understanding of the circumstances leading to the deaths of Sarah and Laura Folbigg,” Mr Jordan said.