A mother in Australia who spent 20 years in jail after being convicted of killing her four infant children had her convictions quashed Thursday in light of new evidence that cast doubt on her guilt.
Kathleen Folbigg, 56, was once reviled as the “most hated woman” in the country following her 2003 conviction for the murder of three of her kids and the manslaughter of a fourth. After being freed from prison and pardoned in June, she could now be set to receive the largest wrongful conviction payout in Australian history.
At trial, prosecutors presented Folbigg’s diary entries—in which she wrote about feelings of having failed as a mother—as admissions of guilt. She was accused of having smothered her children Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura, all of whom died suddenly between the ages of 19 days and 18 months between 1989-1999.
Folbigg maintained her innocence after her conviction and insisted her children had died from natural causes. A 2019 inquiry into her case reaffirmed her guilt but a second inquiry earlier this year uncovered new evidence that indicated that her children had an extremely rare genetic mutation that could have led to their deaths.
After being pardoned by the state government in June, Folbigg was cleared of all charges Thursday due to the “substantial and extensive body” of new evidence in the case, Chief Justice Andrew Bell said.
“I am grateful that updated science and genetics has given me answers as to how my children died,” Folbigg said Thursday. “However, even in 1999, we had legal answers to prove my innocence. They were ignored and dismissed.” She added: “The system preferred to blame me rather than accept that sometimes, children can and do die suddenly, unexpectedly, and heartbreakingly.”
Folbigg’s lawyer, Rhanee Rego, said her legal team is now preparing a wrongful imprisonment case. She said the claim “will be bigger than any substantial payment that has been made before.”