Twenty years after she was imprisoned for killing her four children, Kathleen Folbigg has been pardoned and released from jail.
- Kathleen Folbigg was notified of her release on Monday morning
- She will stay with childhood friend and advocate Tracy Chapman
- Ms Folbigg has always denied killing her four children
NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley told a packed media conference that he had received the preliminary findings of a recent inquiry headed by retired chief justice Tom Bathurst.
He said Mr Bathurst had concluded he was firmly of the view that there was reasonable doubt about Ms Folbigg’s guilt.
Mr Daley said he had sought legal advice over the weekend and weighed up his options carefully.
“I consider that his reasons establish exceptional circumstances of the kind that weigh heavily in favor of the grant of a free pardon,” he said.
“And that in the interests of justice Ms Folbigg should be released from custody as soon as possible.”
The attorney-general said he met with NSW Governor Margaret Beazley this morning and recommended she exercise the Royal prerogative of mercy and grant the prisoner an unconditional pardon.
“Ms Folbigg has now been pardoned,” he said.
Mr Daley said Ms Folbigg was notified this morning.
He said he spoke to the father of the four children, Craig Folbigg, to inform him of the decision.
“I am thinking of him today as well,” he said.
“It will be a tough day for him.”
In a statement late on Monday night, Mr Folbigg’s lawyer said his client’s view had not changed.
“Mr Folbigg’s view of the guilt of Ms Folbigg has not changed at all,” Danny Eid said.
“Ms Folbigg has not been acquitted of the crimes, and her convictions are not displaced.”
A ‘steak and a bath’
The pardon follows a long campaign for justice by Ms Folbigg’s supporters.
Speaking from her home in Newcastle, friend Helen Cummings said the released prisoner would be enjoying a “well-done T-bone steak”.
“It’s going to be a big day for her, having that steak and a bath,” she said.
She said her friend would face significant obstacles in adapting to life outside.
“She doesn’t know a lot about the modern world, computers, iPhones, traffic rules, new buildings,” she said.
“In 20 years so much has changed.”
Supporters revealed Ms Folbigg will stay at the home of her childhood friend Tracy Chapman, near Coffs Harbour.
“I know the past 20 years have been horrific for Kathleen, not least for the pain and suffering she has had to endure following the loss of her four children,” Ms Chapman said.
“They were gorgeous children … they all missed every day.”
Ms Folbigg and her best friend are holding a pajama party for her first night out of prison, according to Greens MP Sue Higginson.
‘Justice has been done’
Ms Higginson said: “Right now justice has been done and it’s not a day too soon.”
“Now all power to Kathleen as she tries to remedy and seek some justice in retrospect for the 20 years she has lost.”
Mr Daley said the case had been a terrible normal for all concerned.
“I hope that our actions today put some closure on this 20-year-old matter,” Mr Daley said.
“I am grateful as well and all citizens should be that the review provisions are available in NSW to ensure that where circumstances arise like these ones justice can be ultimately done even if it takes a long time.”
The New South Wales Opposition Leader Mark Speakman, ordered the judicial review last year when he was attorney-general and said the decision to pardon and release Folbigg was “appropriate”.
“When Mr Bathurst is firmly of the view that there is a reasonable doubt, when the DPP has conceded that there is a reasonable doubt, then it was the right thing for the attorney-general to today set in place Ms Folbigg’s release from prison, ” Mr. Speakman said.
“This is a day of high emotions. There are no winners from this story, it’s a terrible story of four lives lost, of a grieving father, and a woman who’s been incarcerated when she shouldn’t have been for 20 years.”
Asked whether reform was needed on how the legal system deals with new scientific evidence, Mr Speakman said he would await the full report from Mr Bathurst.
“There have been suggestions that we should have a kind of independent criminal review commission that might look at these sorts of cases, I don’t think that would’ve made any difference here,” he said.
Evidence in examined inquiry
Ms Folbigg, now 55, has always denied killing her children Caleb, Patrick, Laura and Sarah, but was convicted of smothering them in a trial that relied on circumstantial evidence.
The recent inquiry into her convictions, which concluded in April, heard new scientific evidence that suggested the deaths of the children could be due to natural causes.
“The ultimate submission of counsel assisting is that on the whole of the body of evidence before this inquiry, there is a reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg’s guilt,” counsel assisting Sophie Callan SC said in her closing remarks.
Expert witnesses to the inquiry revealed that a rare gene mutation, CALM2 G114R, may have caused the deaths of Laura and Sarah.
The barrister for the NSW Director of Public Prosecution, Dean Jordan SC, said the discovery of the gene mutation “fundamentally changed our understanding of the circumstances leading to the deaths of the girls.”
Mr Jordan said pathology evidence relevant to the death of each Folbigg child was not available when she stood trial in 2003.
There was also evidence that the second child, Patrick, may have an underlying genetic disorder that predisposed him to epilepsy.
The Australian Academy of Science, which acted as an independent scientific advisor to the inquiry, welcomed news of the pardon, saying it was relieved that science had been heard.
“This case has enormous implications for the justice system of every Australian state and territory,” said chief executive Anna-Maria Arabia.
“The question must now be asked how do we create a more science-sensitive legal system, bringing to bear new complex and emerging science routinely, every day and not just in exceptional circumstances.”
The inquiry was also heard that it would be unreliable to rely on Ms Folbigg’s diary entries as admissions of guilt.
At trial, the diary entries were seen as critical to the conviction, but experts who have since analyzed them for the first time told the judicial inquiries they were the expressions of a depressed and grieving mother.
Mr Daley said he wished Ms Folbigg well for the rest of her life.
“I think we all have to put ourselves in Ms Folbigg’s shoes and let her now have the space she needs to get on with her life,” he said.
“It’s been a 20-year-long normal for her.”
It will now be up to the head of the inquiry to refer the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal to consider whether the convictions should be quashed.
Ms Folbigg could then sue the state of NSW for compensation or seek an ex gratia payment.
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