Australia acquits woman who spent 20 years in prison accused of murdering her four children: ‘I prayed to clear my name’

The New South Wales Court of Appeal on Thursday acquitted Kathleen Folbigg, sentenced to prison in 2003 for the deaths of her four children, after the court this year ordered her pardon and release following an investigation by Spanish immunologist Carola García Vinuesa who allowed “reasonable doubts” to be raised as to her culpability in the children’s deaths.

The court, presided over by Chief Justice Andrew Bell, handed down the sentence in the ceremonial court in Sydney, in the presence of Folbigg, his lawyer, Rhanee Rego, and several dozen supporters, who applauded the decision . The NSW Government now has the option to make an “ex gratia” payment as compensation.

After the conviction was overturned, Folbigg, who spent 20 years in prison, assured that she should never have been imprisoned and that “the system preferred to ‘blame’ her rather than accept that sometimes children may die and, in fact, “They die suddenly and unexpectedly,” he said in statements reported by Australian television channel ABC.

“I hoped and prayed that one day I could be here with my name cleared. (…) I hope no one else has to go through what I went through. I am grateful that science and genetics have given me answers about how my children died. However, even in 1999, we had legal answers to prove my innocence, but they were ignored.

Genetic mutation

Folbigg, 55 and known as “Australia’s worst serial killer”, was convicted of murdering three of her children and the manslaughter of her firstborn, between 1989 and 1999. The babies were between 19 days and 19 months. The accused has always maintained her innocence, ensuring that all her children died of natural causes and not by asphyxiation, as prosecutors have maintained for two decades.

Spanish researcher Carlola García Vinuesa.

The examination of this case took place after a scientific investigation, which began in May last year, revealed a possible genetic mutation which causes fatal arrhythmias. Among the key points of this new report signed by the Spanish scientist and which led to the decision to grant pardon are “the reasonable possibility” that three of the four children died of natural causes.

Retired judge Tom Bathurst, who led the new inquiry, said health problems could explain three of the deaths. Similarly, he said two girls had a rare genetic mutation while one boy was believed to have had an “underlying neurogenic disease”. Considering these factors, Bathurst determined that the fourth child’s death was also not suspicious, adding that he could not accept that “Folbigg was anything other than a loving mother to her children.”

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