Top NSW medical experts want baby killer Folbigg freed

 

Seventy-six of Australia's most respected doctors and scientists have put their names to an extraordinary petition demanding a pardon for Kathleen Folbigg, the mother serving a 30-year jail term for killing four of her infant children.

The eminent researchers, including two Nobel laureates and several Australians of the Year, say new medical evidence about a mutant gene carried by two of the Folbigg children creates a "strong presumption'' that they died from natural causes.

Joined by another 14 international experts, they have called on NSW Governor Margaret Beazley to pardon Folbigg and immediately release her from jail, calling for an end to the "miscarriage of justice'' they say the 53-year-old has suffered.

 

Kathleen Folbigg is serving a 30-year jail term for killing four of her infant children. Picture: Joel Carrett.
Kathleen Folbigg is serving a 30-year jail term for killing four of her infant children. Picture: Joel Carrett.

Among those to put their names to the petition are president of the Australian Academy of Science John Shine, Nobel laureate Professor Peter Doherty, a former Australian of the Year, and Tasmanian-born Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, who won the Nobel Prize in 2009.

Professor Fiona Stanley, a distinguished research professor and 2003 Australian of the Year, Professor Ian Frazer, 2006 Australian of the Year, co-inventor of the vaccine which prevents cervical cancer, and former Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb have also signed the scientific consensus statement.

 

NSW Governor Margaret Beazley AC QC. Picture: Gaye Gerard
NSW Governor Margaret Beazley AC QC. Picture: Gaye Gerard

 

Nobel laureate Professor Peter Doherty. Picture: Mark Stewart
Nobel laureate Professor Peter Doherty. Picture: Mark Stewart

"The executive prerogative of mercy is designed to deal with failures of the justice system such as this one,'' a letter accompanying the petition and obtained by News Corp, states.

"It is incumbent on the Governor to exercise her power to stop the ongoing miscarriage of justice suffered by Ms Folbigg.

Sarah Folbigg with her mother Kathleen Folbigg.
Sarah Folbigg with her mother Kathleen Folbigg.

"Not to do so is to continue to deny Ms Folbigg basic human rights and to decrease faith in the New South Wales justice system.

"Ms Folbigg's case also establishes a dangerous precedent as it means that cogent medical and scientific evidence can simply be ignored in preference to subjective interpretations of circumstantial evidence.''

Professor Ian Chubb.
Professor Ian Chubb.

Folbigg, from the Hunter Valley, was convicted in 2003 of smothering her four children - Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura - over a 10-year period from February 1989 to March 1999. She has always maintained her innocence and her convictions, based largely on entries she wrote in her diary, have been upheld through numerous legal challenges.

Professor Elizabeth Blackburn.
Professor Elizabeth Blackburn.

 

But the scientific experts were always concerned about the case, and genomic work undertaken by an international team of experts including from the Australian National University in Canberra uncovered new information which experts say casts significant doubt on her convictions.

ANU researchers Professor Carola Vinuesa and Dr Todor Arsov first discovered the gene mutation after sequencing the genome of Kathleen Folbigg in 2018.

 

ANU researcher Professor Carola Vinuesa.
ANU researcher Professor Carola Vinuesa.

"Mutations in this gene are one of the best recognised causes of sudden death in infancy and childhood,'' the petition, also signed by Professor Vinuesa and Dr Arsov, notes.

"The medical evidence that now exists... creates a strong presumption that the Folbigg children died of natural causes.''

Fourteen international experts from Denmark, Italy, Israel, the UK and the US have joined the 76 Australian scientists and doctors who come from some of the most prestigious scientific institutions in Australia, including the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, to lobby for Folbigg's release.

Patrick Folbigg with father Craig.
Patrick Folbigg with father Craig.

A letter lodged from Folbigg's legal team states there is no medical evidence to support the prosecution's theory that Folbigg smothered her children.

The NSW Court of Appeal is considering Folbigg's latest bid to clear her name, by over-turning the results of a 2019 judicial inquiry which found no reasonable doubt as to Folbigg's convictions.

As part of the inquiry, scientists sequenced the genomes from the Folbigg children and discovered the mutation in Laura and Sarah. However, the mutation's likely lethal nature was not confirmed until after the inquiry was completed.

Caleb Folbigg, son of mother Kathleen Folbigg.
Caleb Folbigg, son of mother Kathleen Folbigg.

The scientific experts endorsing the petition are now arguing that the Governor should intervene immediately to pardon Folbigg, as legal appeals will take years to finalise.

"The Governor should have no doubt that the case against Kathleen Folbigg is entirely circumstantial,'' they argue.

"It is based on the proposition that the likelihood of four children from one family dying of natural causes is so unlikely as to be virtually impossible. This flawed logic, otherwise known as 'Meadow's Law', permeated the trial and the 2019 inquiry.

"It resulted in medical evidence being rejected in favour of inculpatory interpretations of Ms Folbigg's vague journal entries, which contained no admissions of guilt.

"Based on evidence presented to the inquiry and the fresh scientific evidence obtained by the international group of experts that studied the CALM2 mutation, a reasonable person should have doubt about Ms Folbigg killing her four children. Deciding otherwise rejects medical science and the law that sets the standard of proof.

 

 

"Ms Folbigg should be granted a pardon based on the significant positive evidence of natural causes of death for Caleb, Patrick, Sarah, and Laura.

"Ms Folbigg has suffered and continues to suffer emotional and psychological trauma and physical abuse in custody. She has endured the death of her four children and has been wrongfully incarcerated because the justice system has failed her. We the undersigned seek her immediate pardon and release from jail.''

 

 

FULL LIST: EXPERTS BACKING KATHLEEN FOLBIGG

 

 

Professor John Shine, Australian Academy of Science president, 2010 winner of Prime Minister's Prize for Science, renowned biochemist.

 

Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, Tasmanian-born scientist, 2009 Nobel Laureate.

 

Professor Peter Doherty, 1996 Nobel Laureate, 1997 Australian of the Year, patron and namesake of the Doherty Institute at the University of Melbourne.

 

Professor Fiona Stanley, distinguished research professor, University of Western Australia, 2003 Australian of the Year.

 

Professor Ian Frazer, 2006 Australian of the Year, co-inventor of the vaccine which prevents cervical cancer.

 

Emeritus Professor Richard Larkins, former VC Monash University, former Chancellor LaTrobe University, former chairman of the National Health and Medical Research Council.

 

Professor Cheryl E Praeger, winner 2019 Prime Minister's Prize for Science, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Western Australia.

 

Professor Peter J. Schwartz, head of the Center for Cardiac Arrhythmias of Genetic Origin, Italy.

 

Professor Michael Toft Overgaard, head of the Department of Chemistry and Bioscience at Aalborg University, Denmark.

 

Professor Chris Semsarian, internationally recognised cardiologist, Professor of Medicine, University of Sydney.

 

Laureate Professor Ingrid E Scheffer, president of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, senior fellow at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

 

Dr Hariharan Raju, cardiologist at Concord Hospital Sydney, Associate Professor, Macquarie University.

 

Professor S.R. Wayne Chen, exert on cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death, Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Calgary, Canada.

 

Professor Hamish S Scott, head of Department of Genetics and Molecular Pathology, Centre for Cancer Biology, Adelaide.

 

Professor Carola G Vinuesa, co-director, Centre for Personalised Immunology, Australian National University.

 

Professor Jonathan Carapetis, director Telethon Kids Institute, paediatrician, Perth Children's Hospital.

 

Professor Josef Gecz, paediatric geneticist and chair of Channel 7 Children's Research Foundation for the Prevention of Childhood Disability.

 

Professor David J Tremethick, head of the Department of Genome Sciences, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Associate Professor Hugo Gold, founding medical doctor, Children's Bioethics Centre, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne.

 

Professor Ira Shoulson, professor of neurology, pharmacology and human science and director of the Program for Regulatory Science and Medicine, Georgetown University, USA.

 

Emeritus Scientia Professor Eugenie R Lumbers, expert in systems physiology and pharmacology, cardiovascular and renal foetal and development physiology.

 

Emeritus Professor Barry Boettcher, foundation professor of biological sciences, University of Newcastle.

 

Professor Greg Stuart, head of the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Professor Wendy Hoy, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Centre for Chronic Disease at the University of Queensland.

 

Professor Johan Duflou, forensic pathologist and clinical professor at the University of Sydney.

 

Professor Melanie Bahlo, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne laboratory head, human genetics.

 

Professor E Marelyn Wintour-Coghlan, scientist, physiologist, Professor at Monash University.

 

Dr Orna Berry, former chief scientist of Israel, expert adviser to the European Union on science and technology, Israel.

 

Dr Sue Meek, former chief executive of the Australian Academy of Science.

 

Professor Angel F Lopez, head of human immunology, SA Pathology, Adelaide.

 

Professor Matthew Cook, professor of medicine at ANU, director of immunology at Canberra Hospital.

 

Emeritus Professor Helene Marsh, distinguished professor of Environmental Science at James Cook University.

 

Adjunct Professor Paul N Goldwater, SIDS researcher, professor of paediatric Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology, University of Adelaide.

 

Professor Jonathan Sprent, professor of immunology, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney.

 

Professor Graham Mann, director, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Professor Oliver Mayo, evolutionary geneticist, adjunct professor of biology at the University of Adelaide.

 

Professor Stephen Alexander, professor of pediatrics and child health, Westmead Hospital.

 

Professor Ruth Arkell, professor of genetics and embryology at John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Professor Ehsan Arabzadeh, group leader, Eccles Institute of Neuroscience, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Professor John M Bekkers, professor of neuroscience, deputy director John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Dr Maria Cecilia Garcia Rudaz, senior lecturer, School of Medicine, ANU.

 

Professor Caroline Blackwell, conjoint professor, School of Biomedical Sciences and

Pharmacy, University of Newcastle.

 

Professor Sarah A Robertson, director, Robinson Research Institute for Reproduction, Pregnancy and Child Health, University of Adelaide.

 

Associate Professor Tamas Fischer, Associate Professor at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU, head of epigenetics and genomic stability group.

 

Associate Professor Riccardo Natoli, head of the Clear Vision Research Lab, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Dr Bahar Miraghazadeh, researcher at Department of Immunology, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Dr Roslyn Prinsley, Head, Strategic Research Initiatives, Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation at ANU.

 

Dr Nathalie Dehorter, research fellow at the Eccles Institute of Neuroscience, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Dr Marcin Adamski, senior lecturer, Research School of Biology, ANU.

 

Dr Todor Arsov, honorary senior research fellow, John Curtin School of Medical Research, general counsellor at the Medical School in Skopje, North Macedonia.

 

Dr Percy Wong, senior researcher University of Sydney, former principal research scientist, NSW department of Agriculture.

 

Dr Barbara B. R. de Oliveria Mendes, geneticist at the Institute of Thorax, France.

 

Dr Vicki Athanasopoulos, molecular biology expert, researcher at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Dr Catherine Regan, senior lecturer, Department of Rural Health at the University of Newcastle.

 

Yafei Zhang, next generation sequencing manager, Australian Phenomics Facility, ANU.

 

Dr Leon Kempler, chairman of Questacon.

 

Peter Yates, chairman for the Centre of Personalised Immunology and member of the advisory board for the Australian Genomics Health Alliance.

 

Anna-Maria Arabia, chief executive of the Australian Academy of Science, former CEO of Science and Technology Australia.

 

Emeritus Professor Ian Chubb, former Australian Chief Scientist and former vice-chancellor of ANU and Flinders universities.

 

David Wallace, health lawyer with expertise in genomic evidence.

 

Associate Professor Mette Nyegaard, pioneering researcher in genomics, Aarhus University, Denmark.

 

Assistant Professor Ivy E. Dick from the University of Maryland's School of Medicine.

 

Professor Reza Razavi, professor of paediatric cardiovascular science at Kings College, London.

 

Professor John Funder, former president of the Australian Society for Medical Research.

 

Professor Flavien Charpentier, research director at the Thorax Institute, France.

 

Professor Douglas J. Hilton, director, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne.

 

Dr Malene Brohus, postdoctoral fellow, Department of Chemistry and Bioscience, Aalborg University, Denmark.

 

Dr Helene Halkjaer Jensen, postdoctoral fellow, Department of Chemistry and Bioscience, Aalborg University, Denmark.

 

Professor Matt Brown, professor of medicine, King's College, London.

 

Dr Dan Andrews, laboratory head, genome informatics, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

Conjoint ProfessorMatthew Edwards, clinical geneticist, NSW.

 

Professor Leanne Dibbens, head of genetics and genomics, Australian Centre for Precision Health.

Dr Michael Ricos, senior research fellow, Australian Centre for Precision Health.

 

Associate Professor Tracy Dudding-Byth, senior consultant clinical geneticist, conjoint professor, University of Newcastle.

 

Professor David Balding, professor of statistical genetics, president-elect International Genetic Epidemiology Society.

 

Professor Terence Speed, 2013 winner Prime Minister's Prize for Science, laboratory head, bioinformatics division, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research.

 

Professor Ian H Sloan, president of the Royal Society of NSW.

 

Scientia Professor George Paxinos, senior principal research fellow with the National Health and Medical Research Centre.

 

Professor Jane Blood-Siegfried, director of global education programs and initiatives, Duke University School of Nursing, USA.

 

Professor George Fink, professorial research fellow at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the University of Melbourne.

 

Erica Kneipp, head of research strategy, ANU College of Health and Medicine.

 

Dr Simon Jiang, nephrologist, Canberra Hospital, and research fellow of molecular genetics and personalised medicine at ANU.

 

Professor Assa Doron, professor, head of anthropology, School of Culture, History and Language, ANU.

 

Dr Amanda Boyce, expertise in renal and cardiac developmental physiology.

 

Dr Alex Bahar-Fuchs, senior research fellow, clinical neuropsychologist.

 

Dr David Burton, psychiatrist, NSW.

 

Dr Julie Blasioli, general manager laboratory research, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

 

Dr Paula Gonzalez-Figueroa, ANU researcher, expertise in protein biology and immunology.

 

Dr Manuel Navarro-Gonzalez, toxicologist, NSW.

 

Dr Jonathan Roco, expertise in sequencing and immunology, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

 

 

Originally published as Top NSW medical experts want baby killer Folbigg freed

Laura Folbigg with her mother Kathleen Folbigg.
Laura Folbigg with her mother Kathleen Folbigg.
Professor Fiona Stanley.
Professor Fiona Stanley.
Professor Ian Frazer. Picture: Annette Dew
Professor Ian Frazer. Picture: Annette Dew
New scientific evidence behind the petition to have convicted child killer Kathleen Folbigg freed: The Australian Academy of Science's Fellow and ANU Professor Carola Vinuesa discusses the new scientific evidence behind the petition to have convicted child killer Kathleen Folbigg freed.
New scientific evidence behind the petition to have convicted child killer Kathleen Folbigg freed: The Australian Academy of Science's Fellow and ANU Professor Carola Vinuesa discusses the new scientific evidence behind the petition to have convicted child killer Kathleen Folbigg freed.