Woman once branded ‘Australia’s worst female serial killer’ acquitted

Woman once branded ‘Australia’s worst female serial killer’ acquitted

The woman once branded ‘Australia’s worst female serial killer’ will seek a record compensation payout after she was acquitted of killing her four children following a 24-year fight for justice.

Kathleen Folbigg spent two decades in prison after she was found guilty of causing the deaths of her four children. She was released from prison in June after an inquiry found there was “reasonable doubt” about her guilt in respect of all her convictions.

On Thursday, her convictions of three counts of murder, one count of manslaughter, and one count of maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm, were overturned in the Court of Criminal Appeal.

After a month of deliberation, Chief Justice Andrew Bell, Justice Julie Ward and Chief Justice Ian Harrison found there was “now reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg’s guilt”.

They quashed all her convictions in a historic move that her lawyer said could result in a record compensation payout.

A delighted crowd of supporters, many of whom wore ‘Justice for Kathleen Folbigg’ T-shirts, burst into a round of applause in the courtroom as an emotional Ms Folbigg wiped away tears.

She cried as she was embraced by a line of friends while walking out of the courtroom after the life-changing decision.

Outside court, Ms Folbigg said she was grateful for her army of family, friends, and scientific and legal professionals who had sacrificed “a lot” to support her.

“For almost a quarter of a century, I faced disbelief and hostility. I suffered abuse in all its forms,” she said through tears.

“They accused me of something I never wrote about, never did and never could do.”

“I hope that no one else will ever have to suffer what I suffered.”

Ms Folbigg said she was grateful that scientific and genetic discoveries had now provided answers about her children’s deaths, but she never should have been jailed.

“The system preferred to blame me rather than accept that sometimes children can and do die suddenly, unexpectedly, heartbreakingly,” she said.

“I think the system and society need to think before they blame a parent of hurting their children.”

Her lawyer Rhanee Rego confirmed Ms Folbigg would be seeking compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

Ms Rego said she wasn’t prepared to put a figure on the amount sought but it would be “bigger than any substantial payment that has been made before”.

In 1992, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain received $1.3 million after they were pardoned and acquitted in relation to the death of their daughter Azaria.

A spokesman for NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley said the government would “carefully consider any submission that Ms Folbigg or her representatives put forward.”

Thursday’s decision marks the end of a long road to exoneration for the woman previously demonised over the deaths of her four children.

“After 24 years, the legal system has finally listened to Kathleen Folbigg,” Ms Rego announced.

“Today, she is a free woman. A woman who demonstrated courage and resilience to reject the claims made against her.”

The mother was in 2003 jailed for 40 years for the murder of Patrick (eight months), Laura (10 months) and Sarah (19 months) as well as the manslaughter of her son Caleb (19 days).

All of her children died suddenly and none reached their second birthday.

Speaking outside court, Ms Folbigg tearfully declared: “I love my children and I always will.”

Ms Rego told journalists Ms Folbigg’s case exemplified “broader problem” with Australia’s legal system and called for the establishment of an independent body for post-conviction reviews.

“An innocent woman’s suffering should be recognised and become a major impetus to improve our legal system,” Ms Rego said.

“We must all call for reforms that will rectify miscarriages of justice and ensure that every person is treated fairly and humanely.”

Friend and longtime supporter Tracy Chapman said the “epic journey” to Ms Folbigg’s acquittal was a “herculean effort” which “shattered lives and relationships”.

“I’ve witnessed first-hand the extreme and lasting toll a wrongful conviction can have on someone,” she said outside court.

“Kath, I never doubted your innocence, not for one moment.”

Ms Folbigg steadfastly maintained her innocence throughout her two decades behind bars, and she was vindicated by an inquiry into the children’s sudden deaths earlier this year.

The inquiry raised reasonable doubt that the Folbigg children could have died due to natural causes or a rare genetic mutation.

New expert medical evidence published in March 2021 revealed that Sarah and Laura carried the CALM2 genetic mutation, which can cause cardiac problems, irregular heartbeats and lead to sudden death.

This fatal genetic variant would not have been investigated at the time of the children’s deaths because it was not discovered by medical scientists until years later, the inquiry was told.

Former NSW Chief Justice Tom Bathurst KC, who led the inquiry, found Ms Folbigg shared the same genetic mutation as her daughters.

Experts concluded Patrick had likely died due to a brain injury suffered during an epileptic seizure, but they were unable to determine the cause of death for Caleb.

In his report, Mr Bathurst determined there was an “identifiable cause” of three of the children’s deaths and no direct evidence that Ms Folbigg killed her children. (NCA NewsWire)

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