By LUCY ORMONDE
Caleb Folbigg was just 19 days old when he died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – or ‘cot death – in 1989.
Patrick Folbigg was next. He was eight months old when he died from a suspected epileptic fit in 1991.
Sarah Folbigg was 10 months old when she died, also from SIDS, two years later.
And then there was Laura.
Laura Folbigg survived the longest out of any of the Folbigg children. She was 19 months old when she died on March 1, 1999. The coroner ruled it was myocarditis, a inflammation of the heart, that killed Laura without warning one night while she was sleeping.
All four children were found by their mother, Kathleen, who woke her husband Craig screaming when she discovered her babies were not breathing.
After initial investigations, each of the children’s deaths were deemed to be natural. But after Laura’s death in 1999, authorities began to get suspicious.
And it was enough for a 12-person jury to find Kathleen Folbigg guilty of three counts of murder and one count of manslaughter, following a seven-week trial in 2003.
Folbigg, 46, is currently serving a maximum 30 year sentence at NSW’s Silverwater Jail.
But the question everyone is asking today is whether the courts got it wrong; they’re asking whether it’s possible that Kathleen has been wrongly convicted.
This question was the focus of Channel 9’s 60 Minutes program last night.
During the extended broadcast, reporter Tara Brown spoke to legal and medical experts who believe that there is now enough evidence to prove that Kathleen Folbigg’s children did not die at the hands of their mother; that, as initially decided, it was simply a series of extremely unfortunate events.
They believe that an innocent woman may have been put behind bars, when really she should have been the subject of comfort, support and love. After all, she is a mother who has lost her children.
Legal academic Emma Cunliffe has been following the case for 10 years. She has written a book called Murder, Medicine & Motherhood and, according to the 60 Minutes report, believes that Folbigg’s case was “tainted by unreliable and outdated medical evidence, which has led to a terrible miscarriage of justice.”
This is part of the 60 Minutes transcript:
TARA BROWN: Original autopsies found each child died of natural causes. Caleb and Sarah were the victims of SIDS, and Patrick died as a result of an epileptic fit. But then, in court, some of the same medical experts inexplicably changed their opinion, cementing the murder case against Kathleen.
EMMA CUNLIFFE: At the trial, the doctors who had been involved with Patrick’s care at that time said they no longer stood by those diagnoses, but at the time that he died they saw that death as natural.
TARA BROWN: Why did they change their minds?
EMMA CUNLIFFE: They didn’t say.
TARA BROWN: Was there any forensic evidence that proved there was homicide?
EMMA CUNLIFFE: There was no positive evidence of homicide in relation to any child.
Dr Cunliffe maintains that there was not enough evidence to convict Folbigg for the murders of her children. Cunfliffe says that back in 2003, there was a medical assumption that foul play must be involved; that there was little or no doubt that it was possible for four children from one family die in separate incidents.
It was this, coupled with extracts from Folbigg’s “guilt-ridden” personal diary in which she admits to thinking she’s “the worst mother in the world” and says “stress made (her) do terrible things”, that possibly led to Folbigg’s conviction.
“It’s a terrifying notion, that four children might die in a single family, and that those deaths might be unexplained,” Dr Cunliffe said.
“This case, in part I think, is about offering an explanation. It’s about saying you’re not at risk of having your children dying unexpectedly, because these children were murdered.”