Scientists call for Folbigg case review
New genetic evidence revealed at a symposium hosted by the Australian Academies of Science and Law shows a “strong possibility” that Kathleen Folbigg’s daughters had a genetic mutation that caused their death.
Carola Vinuesa (below), a Professor of Immunology at the Australian National University (ANU), and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, discussed the scientists’ findings in her speech at the symposium this afternoon.
The findings by an international team of 27 scientists from Australia, Denmark, Italy, Canada, the United States and France, have also been peer-reviewed and published today in the international cardiology journal, Europace.
The scientists say they have examined the presence of a novel, never-before reported, genetic mutation in Kathleen’s children Sarah and Laura that they inherited from her.
Scientists in Denmark (pictured main), who have carried out biochemical experiments, say the results show the mutation, known as the CALM2 G114R variant is “likely pathogenic” and “likely” caused the girls’ deaths.
Professor Peter Schwartz, senior author of the paper and a world-leading authority on genetic causes of cardiac arrhythmias and sudden, unexpected death, said: “The significance of our evidence is that there is a strong possibility that the two female Folbigg children died a natural death, due to a lethal arrhythmia favoured by the presence in these two children of a disease-causing mutation inherited from the mother.
“This mutation causes a ‘Calmodulinopathy’ — an extremely severe arrhythmic disease that can manifest in three main clinical variants, all predisposing to sudden cardiac death in infancy and childhood, or also later in life.”
Professor Schwartz added: “The two girls with the Calmodulin mutation fit the pattern well known in genetic disorders and — more likely than not — they both died a natural arrhythmic death due to their disease.”
The international team also reported a different genetic mutation found in Folbigg’s two boys, Patrick and Caleb, that could explain their deaths too.
A judicial inquiry into Kathleen’s convictions last year concluded the evidence heard “reinforces her guilt”.
Later this month, a date will be set for a new hearing, which will review the findings made by Justice Reginald Blanch at the inquiry.
Kathleen’s legal team is arguing that on multiple counts, in relation to the evidence presented at her trial and uncovered since then, there is reasonable cause for doubt that she smothered all four of her children.
Her lawyers are expected to argue that the fresh genetic evidence presented this week raises further reasonable doubt about her convictions for murdering Sarah and Laura, and strengthens the argument for her case to be referred to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Kathleen’s friend Tracy Chapman notes: “The inquiry had very specific terms of reference, which meant key pieces of scientific evidence weren’t introduced. We feel this new evidence is a clear indicator of reasonable doubt.”
Professor Schwartz told Quentin McDermott at the ABC: “I have no idea whether Kathleen Folbigg is innocent or guilty, but I think that she was sentenced on the basis of incomplete evidence and of incorrect opinions.
“A fair judicial system would acknowledge this and look again at the case on the basis of the novel evidence.”