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Australian inquest asks if mum suffocated her 4 children

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Australian inquest asks if mum suffocated her 4 children
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CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian inquest began on Monday to determine whether a woman convicted more than a decade ago of choking her four children to death might be innocent.

The inquest by retired New South Wales Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Bathurst is the second judicial inquiry into Kathleen Folbigg’s 2003 convictions and reflects advances in genetic science that add weight to his argument that his children died of natural causes.

The first inquest led by retired Chief District Court Judge Reginald Blanch concluded in 2019 that there was no reasonable doubt that Folbigg, now 55, murdered her children Sarah, Laura and Patrick. and was guilty of the manslaughter of her firstborn, Caleb.

The start of the new investigation in Sydney focuses on a rare CALM2 genetic variant present in both girls. Research on the variant published last year, after Blanch’s report, found it could cause cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death in young children, inquest attorney Sophie Callan said. at the start of the hearing.

“The central question has always been whether Mrs. Folbigg caused the death of one or more of her four children or whether they died of natural causes,” Callan said.

While 22 medical experts had testified at his trial in 2003, numerous experts in various medical and scientific fields have since provided reports in support of Folbigg’s case.

“This caucus of medical and scientific evidence is important and dominates the examination of Ms. Folbigg’s beliefs,” Callan said.

“However, this is not the only source of evidence relevant to the question of her guilt. Another important category of evidence was the diaries and diaries she kept during the children’s lifetimes,” Callan added.

A second phase of the investigation beginning in February will focus on the dairies that prosecutors in her trial presented as “an intimate, personal and accurate analysis of what she was thinking” when she wrote them, Callan said. .

Prosecutors “characterised certain entries in her diaries, particularly in combination, as admissions of guilt, suggesting the diaries were the strongest evidence you could have that Ms. Folbigg murdered her four children,” Callan said. .

Caleb was born in 1989 and died 19 days later in what a jury determined was a lesser crime of manslaughter. Her second child, Patrick, was 8 months old when he died in 1991. Two years later, Sarah died at 10 months old. In 1999, Folbigg’s fourth child, Laura, died at 19 months.

Prosecutors told his jury that the number of similarities between the deaths made the coincidence an unlikely explanation.

Similarities included that all died unexpectedly before the age of 2. Folbigg was the only one home or awake when the children died and they were still warm to the touch. She was living with her former husband Craig Folbigg at the time.

On three occasions she said she found out about the deaths while going to the bathroom and once while checking on the well-being of a child.

Except in Laura’s case, Folbigg never helped them, Callan said.

Prosecutors offered the jury three options: the children died of identified natural causes, unidentified natural causes, or deliberate suffocation by their mother.

Some medical experts who testified at his trial cited Meadow’s Law, an approach to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, named after British pediatrician Samuel Roy Meadow.

As Callan described the theory, the first unexpected child death in a family can be attributed to SIDS, a second should be labeled indeterminate, and a third should be considered a homicide until proven otherwise.

Callan said the reasoning had been widely discredited and urged Bathurst to reject any expert evidence based on that reasoning.

“It could be described as unscientific and, in a legal context, completely inconsistent with the prosecution laying bare the burden of proof and the defendant’s right to be presumed innocent,” Callan said.

Folbigg is serving a 30-year prison sentence that will expire in 2033. She will become eligible for parole in 2028.

New South Wales Attorney General Mark Speakman ordered the new investigation in May when he rejected Folbigg’s request for a pardon.

This petition was “based on significant positive evidence of natural causes of death” and signed by 90 scientists, physicians and related professionals.

If Bathurst finds a reasonable doubt about Folbigg’s guilt, he can report to the Court of Criminal Appeals which could consider overturning his convictions.

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