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Mother who served 20 years in deaths of 4 children freed after new evidence

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Mother who served 20 years in deaths of 4 children freed after new evidence

An Australian woman who spent two decades in prison after she was convicted of killing her four children was pardoned and released from prison Monday, after an inquiry found there was “reasonable doubt” as to whether she was responsible for the children’s deaths.

Kathleen Folbigg has maintained her innocence since she was accused of killing the children, who all died at a young age between the late 1980s and late 1990s.

Her trial in 2003 focused on her diary entries, in which Folbigg — now in her 50s — wrote she had “failed as a mother, a woman.” Prosecutors argued that the deaths of four young children in a row could not be a tragic coincidence and she was excoriated in the media. A jury convicted her of smothering the children to death, and she was sentenced to an initial 40 years imprisonment that was reduced to three decades on appeal.

In recent years, doubts have been raised about the conviction as new science emerged.

The attorney general of New South Wales, Michael Daley, said at a news conference that he had recommended that the governor of the state pardon Folbigg, and that she would be immediately freed. He was notified last week as the report of an inquiry into her conviction was being finalized.

An Australian mom was convicted of killing her 4 babies. Scientists say she’s innocent.

Daley said he received a memo on Friday from Thomas Bathurst, a former senior judge who led the inquiry, stating that there was “reasonable doubt” in each of the alleged offenses.

In 2021, dozens of scientists — including two Nobel laureates — signed a petition urging the governor of New South Wales to pardon Folbigg, arguing that she was “wrongfully incarcerated” and that genetics may have caused the deaths. Geneticists have found rare mutations in the DNA of Folbigg and her daughters that can cause sudden death in infancy and childhood, and other variants found in her sons’ DNA have also been connected to deaths in young children.

That petition was among a handful of others that spurred the inquiry, which Daley said was expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

“The difference between today and what’s transpired in the past is that new evidence has come to light,” said Daley, a member of the center-left Labor Party, adding that it was “appropriate that we do have mechanisms to reconsider these sorts of questions in light of new evidence.”

“I am relieved that an unconditional pardon to Kathleen Folbigg has been granted and that science has been heard,” said Chennupati Jagadish, president of the Australian Academy of Science, which advised Bathurst’s inquiry. The academy added in a statement that it wanted to work with Daley’s office to “implement a more science-sensitive legal system so that a miscarriage of justice of this magnitude never be repeated.”

While the pardon means Folbigg will not have to serve the remainder of her sentence, it does not absolve her from the criminal convictions. A criminal appellate court would need to overturn those convictions, Daley said, adding that a successful appeal would create a path for Folbigg to start civil proceedings against the state for compensation.

Representatives for Folbigg did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding whether she planned to file suit against the government for her two-decade detention.

Justice for Kathleen Folbigg, a group led by a close friend of hers, said in a statement that the “fight for justice continues, but we are thrilled that she finally has her freedom.” Folbigg was released from the Clarence Correctional Center, about a six-hour drive from Sydney, around 11 a.m. local time, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Asked about his response to people who may not believe in Folbigg’s innocence, Daley said: “We’ve got four little bubbas who are dead. We’ve got a husband and wife who lost each other, a woman who spent 20 years in jail and a family that never had a chance.”

“You’d not be human if you didn’t feel something about that,” he said.

Brittany Shammas contributed to this report.

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