CANBERRA, Australia – An Australian state attorney general on Wednesday refused to pardon a mother convicted of killing her four children nearly 20 years ago and instead ordered a new investigation into whether there could be a medical explanation for the tragedies.
A growing number of scientists say Folbig, now 54, could be the victim of a tragic abortion of justice.
Advances in genetic research have widened the gap between legal and scientific opinions since 2003, when Folbig was convicted of three counts of murder and one count of murder.
In March last year, a petition to the governor of the state of New South Wales was signed by 90 scientists, physicians and other professionals, including two Nobel laureates, urging them to pardon Folbig “on the basis of significant positive evidence of natural causes of death”.
Attorney General Mark Speckman, who advises the governor on such petitions, said Wednesday that the case requires a transparent response rather than an apology.
“I understand very well why members of the public can shake their heads and turn a blind eye to Mrs. Folbig in disbelief at the number of possibilities to delete her name and (ask) why the judiciary allows someone who has been convicted … for multiple murders. We have to go again, “said Speakman.
“Of course there are enough questions or suspicions that this raises new scientific evidence that justifies some kind of intervention,” Speakman added.
Folbigg was sentenced to 30 years in prison and will qualify for parole in 2028. None of her children survived until her second birthday.
Her first child, Caleb, was born in 1989 and died 19 days later, which a court ruled was less of a homicide. She was 8 months old when her second child, Patrick, died in 1991. Two years later, Sarah died at the age of 10 months. In 1999, Folbig’s fourth child, Laura, died at the age of 19 months.
An autopsy revealed that Laura had myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle that can be fatal. Patrick was suffering from epilepsy and was blamed for his death from convulsions and respiratory obstruction due to infection. The other two deaths have been recorded as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
The criminal case against Folbig was situational and relied on the interpretation of vague entries made in her diary, one of which was read by her estranged husband and reported to the police.
In 2015, Folbig’s lawyers successfully applied for a judicial inquiry into his conviction based on concerns raised by several forensic pathologists.
Retired Justice Reginald Blanche concluded in 2019 that Folbig was “untrue” and “unbelievable” in his attempt to obscure his guilt.
Blanche also heard new evidence from Carola Vinusa, co-director of the Center for Personalized Immunology at Australian National University, that both the girl and her mother shared recently discovered genetic mutations associated with abnormal heartbeat and sudden infant death.
In 2020, the Oxford University Press Cardiology Journal published results from 27 scientists from Australia, the United States, Canada, France, Denmark and Italy describing the genetic mutations of Falbig girls. The team further stated that boys carry different and rare forms of a gene which, if defective, can lead to death at an early age from rat epilepsy.
Retired New South Wales Chief Justice Tom Bathurst will conduct a new investigation. He could potentially recommend that Folbig be pardoned or convicted, Speakman said.
“Whatever the outcome of this investigation, it is a remarkable tragedy,” Speakman said.