Losing a child has to be the worst thing any parent could ever experience. Losing four would be beyond agonising and totally incomprehensible.
But then, to be charged with their murders and spend years in jail for something you deny, is a nightmare of epic proportions.
It’s the nightmare that Kathleen Folbigg has been living for the past 15 years. She has always protested her innocence but, in 2003, she was found guilty of the murders of her children Patrick, Sarah, and Laura, and the manslaughter of her son, Caleb.
‘To survive you need to adjust and adapt,’ Folbigg tells New Idea of life in prison. ‘You can’t comprehend what it is like behind prison walls. It’s such a tough, difficult place.’
She says she takes it ‘one day at a time, minute by minute, one foot in front of the other.’
‘You have to make your world the immediate space around you to survive emotionally, or depression rules.’
Convicted unanimously by a jury with a compelling raft of evidence, including damning diary entries and testimony from her estranged husband, Craig, it was a high-profile trial that shocked the nation. But now, cracks are beginning to show.
Last week, the ABC’s Australian Story looked more closely at the case, including a report by Professor Stephen Cordner – one of Australia’s pre-eminent forensic pathologists – that casts doubt on the trial’s forensic evidence, which heavily contributed to the guilty verdict.
Professor Cordner’s report concludes: ‘There is no positive forensic pathology support for the contention that any or all of these children have been killed.’
It suggests the deaths of the children could have been from natural causes. And if so, it logically follows that their mum should not be in jail for murder.
The prosecution case against Folbigg centred on her being a stressed mother, prone to dark moods, who smothered each of her four children, over a 10-year period.
Professor Cordner’s report also casts doubt on this smothering, saying ‘there are no signs of smothering’.
The Folbigg’s first child, Caleb, died at 19 days old when his mother said she found him lifeless in his cot. His death was put down to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. The couple went on to have Patrick, who at four months suffered brain damage from an unexplained ‘life-threatening event’.
He was found dead by his mother four months later.
Sarah was 10 months old when she was found lifeless in her cot and SIDS was again recorded, and then Laura, at 19 months old, passed away after Folbigg could not revive her.
This time an autopsy declared Laura was too old for a SIDS death and the inflammation of Laura’s heart muscle, caused by a virus, was said to be non life-threatening. This set alarm bells ringing and then, when Craig found his wife’s diary, things escalated. In it, Folbigg made some shocking entries.
‘She’s a fairly good-natured baby,’ Folbigg wrote about Laura. ‘Thank goodness. It has saved her from the fate of her siblings. I think she was warned.’
Another entry says: ‘I am my father’s daughter,’ damning because her father, Thomas Britton, murdered her mother.
Folbigg also writes about how her daughter Sarah left, ‘with a bit of help’.
At the time she didn’t give evidence, saying: ‘I don’t think I’ll cope with sitting up on the stand and having some bloke just attack me over them [the diary entries].’
Folbigg has recently defended her diary, explaining: ‘You’ve got to understand that those diaries are written from a point of me always blaming myself... It’s just I took so much of the responsibility, because that’s, as mothers, what you do.’
Folbigg – who continues to protest her innocence – tells New Idea she wants those who feel she is guilty to ‘open their minds’ and ‘do some proper research’.
Professor Cordner’s report is the first firm suggestion that she could be telling the truth.
It concludes that Caleb’s and Sarah’s deaths were both properly categorised as SIDS deaths, Patrick’s death was related to the epilepsy disorder he suffered in the last few months of his life, and that Laura’s death ‘has been caused unexceptionally by myocarditis [inflammation of the heart muscle].’
Others close to the case – including Nicholas Cowdery, who was the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions at the time – still believe justice was served.
However, in light of the new evidence, Folbigg’s lawyer has petitioned the NSW government for a judicial review of the case.
Folbigg herself tells New Idea that while the decision is taking too long, ‘it’s better late than never’. Her plans if she is freed from jail? ‘I’d like to do some advocacy work to make sure other people don’t go through the hell that I have.
This article originally appeared on New Idea.