Monday, June 27

Medicine asks that Australia’s biggest serial killer be found innocent after 18 years in prison (podcast)

It is 18 years since the jury of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, in Australia, sentenced Kathleen Folbigg to 40 years in prison.

Folbigg is convicted of three counts of murder and one count of manslaughter., as well as a charge of maliciously inflicting serious bodily injury on one of the murdered sons.

The events happened between 1989 and 1999, and they had as victims the four children of the Australian, when she was 22 years old.

From the beginning of this story, neither the prosecution nor the judges have had any doubt that the killings were the work of Folbigg. And in subsequent appeals that have taken place in the past two decades, no one changed their mind. According to the indictment, the mother killed her children using “suffocation in moments of frustration”.

But history is about to take a spectacular turn thanks to medicine and to scientific research.

Right now science denies justice and calls for freedom for what is considered the greatest murderer in the history of Australia. And he does it with a statement signed by 90 scientists, including no less than two Nobel Laureates.

They all died in their sleep

Caleb, February 1989 It was the first of the deaths. His son was only 19 days old. At birth he was breathing heavily and the pediatrician diagnosed him with a mild case of laryngomalacia. It was not serious and otherwise, he was healthy. But on the night of February 20, according to the trial, the baby, who slept in the room next to the bedroom she shared with her husband, was found by Folbigg.

Patrick Allen. He died on October 18, 1990. He was born on June 3. And on February 18, 1991, Folbigg phoned her husband at work to report Patrick’s death and said, “It happened again!” Patrick was only 4 months old.

Sarah Kathlee. He died on August 29, 1993, at the age of 8 months. He was born on October 14, 1992.

Laura elizabeth He died on February 27, 1999, at the age of 19 months.

The causes that initially determined forensics for the two girls and the two boys were related to sudden deaths:

– Caleb, the first-born, as a consequence of the syndrome known as SIDS, the sudden death of the infant, totally inexplicable, as happened to his sisters Sarah and Laura.

– In Patrick’s case, they attributed it to the fact that at four months of age he suffered severe brain damage as a result of an acute event, and that was what four months later, according to the doctors, ended his life.

It is with the death of Laura, the youngest of the four siblings, when the police put the clue on Kathleen and a murder investigation is launched after the autopsy pathologist, Dr. Allan Cala, ruled that “myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, it was not life threatening. ‘

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The accusation was written in his diary

This statement by the doctor was then joined with the finding by Craig Gibson Folbigg, husband of the accused and father of the four children, of Kathleen’s personal diary where there was some entry that led to think that she had been the cause of death of the little one. In the diary he wrote:

Which has enormous significance, if we consider that his father murdered his mother with 24 stab wounds.

These two circumstances were what ended with Folbigg sitting before the judge in 2003. And it was then that the prosecution convinced the jury that she had suffocated the little ones, even though there was no history of abuse or signs of suffocation. The sentence was 40 years in jail and 30 without parole.

The appeal, in 2005, succeeded in getting the court to reduce his sentence to thirty years in prison and twenty-five without parole.

But today, 18 years in prison later, the evolution and development of medical science can restore Kathleen Folbigg’s lost freedom and end with a martyrdom that, if innocent, cannot be repaired.

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A “cursed” phrase

In his day medicine had already ruled on the death of the little Folbigg.

A perhaps not too scientific argumentation that certified his conviction, although from the beginning it has been discredited by statisticians and scientists.

In 2015, for example, forensic pathologist Stephen Cordner, who re-examined autopsies of children, concluded that there was “no positive forensic pathological support for the affirmation that some or all of them had been assassinated ».

A Spanish scientist is key

So much so that in September 2018 Kathleen’s attorneys asked a prestigious Spanish scientist, Dr. Carola G. Vinuesa, if science had advanced enough to be able to find a genetic cause of children’s death.

The fact that they addressed this Spanish scientist is due to the fact that Vinuesa is co-director of the Center for Personalized Immunology and professor of Immunology at the Australian National University, as well as a member of the NHMRC Center for Research Excellence.

Vinuesa, in conversation with clarifies that: «With the new DNA sequencing technologies it is possible now sequence the entire genomes. Two decades ago it couldn’t be done. But today genetic causes are known for more than 30% of SIDS cases. And since many of these causes are inherited, we decided sequence Kathleen’s genome. ‘

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Y the result came to completely change the focus of the case:

The Spanish doctor, who lives in Australia, has been part of the team of geneticists since 2019 that analyzes the genomes of Folbigg and her children.

The father objects to the investigation

But the investigation has been hampered by the refusal of the father of the children to grant a DNA test that justice has not demanded either, although their ability to clarify the case could be decisive. Because “by carrying out a genetic analysis of this type, analyzing the DNA of the father and the mother, a much clearer image can be obtained of whether a mutation in a child is harmful,” insists Vinuesa.

So much so that as Dr. Vinuesa acknowledges, “before the Judicial Investigation made its findings public, an article reviewed by international experts was published that contained a registry of 74 people with variants in the CALM genes, including young children who had died. suddenly during periods of sleep A girl who died at age four and her brother, who suffered cardiac arrest at age five, had a calmodulin mutation in the same location on the protein as Sarah and Laura had. The children had also inherited the mutation from their healthy mother.

The lead author of the study, Professor Peter Schwartz, cardiologist and one of the world authorities on genetic causes of cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death unexpectedly, he reviewed Folbigg’s case and concluded that “The CALM2 variant was the probable cause of Sarah and Laura’s deaths”.

In spite of everything, the investigation and the study were rejected by the Australian justice system and they again alluded to the existence of the diary and the incriminating interpretation that the police authorities made in the sentence written by his mother: «I feel like the worst mother of this land. Scared he’s leaving me now like Sarah did. She knew he was short-tempered and cruel at times to her, and she left. With a little help. I am my father’s daughter.

Adding the phrase that he also left written when Patrick was about to die:

“Thanks god. He has saved her from the fate of her brothers. I think she was warned.

The advancement of science

The scientific efforts carried out to prove the innocence of Folbigg have not stopped despite the judicial setbacks, as confirmed by Dr. Vinuesa:

– «Since the conclusion of the investigation, the CALM2 mutation has been shown to be pathogenic in a series of experiments carried out by an international team from Denmark, the United States, Canada and Italy, led by Professor Michael Toft Overgaard, an expert in mutations in calmodulin ‘.

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An evidence that has been recently published in the prestigious international magazine ‘EUROPAC‘by Oxford University Press, peer-reviewed and edited by the European Society of Cardiology.

For the specialist Carola G. Vinuesa there is no doubt: “As a scientist, I found the result of the judicial investigation disconcerting.”

In Laura’s case, her myocarditis was shown from the outset to be “severe enough to have caused her death. It is known that myocarditis triggers cardiac arrhythmias, and our genetic findings showed that Laura had a mutation associated with cardiac arrhythmias, “insists Carola G. Vinuesa, Co-Director of the Center for Personalized Immunology in Australia, to Looking for Answers.

These scientific advances, this innovation in the development of processes capable of sequencing DNA, have allowed experts to know the reason for the deaths of Sarah and Laura.

Something more complex was the case of the two boys, Caleb and Patrick, but they have also been able to find a natural cause for their deaths.

And it is that, although they have not been able to count on the DNA of the father, who does not want to know anything about a possible innocence of the mother and has refused to facilitate the investigation, Dr. Vinuesa’s team found “that both children had rare mutations in both copies of a gene that when defective it causes lethal epilepsy in mice. ‘

Caleb was diagnosed with laryngomalacia, or flaccid larynx, which made it difficult for him to breathe and ended his life. And to Patrick, epilepsy. It was in one of his crises, with the obstruction of his airways, that the little one lost his life.

Now, with all this data and after 18 years in prison, a group of ninety scientists have presented the Governor of New South Wales with a signed petition requesting the annulment of Folbigg’s conviction and his immediate release, based on the clinical evidence demonstrated by Dr. Vinuesa’s team.

Among those who sign and support the petition there are two Nobel laureates and the president of the Australian Academy of Sciences, Professor John Shine.

There is no solid judicial basis that keeps Folbigg in prison, according to science, but there is a series of evidences that would prove that each and every one of Kathleen’s four children died of natural causes.

It is now up to the Australian courts to make the decision whether or not to reopen the case.

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