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HomeNewsKathleen Folbigg: Why scientific discovery was so significant

Kathleen Folbigg: Why scientific discovery was so significant

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Genetic variations like the one found in Kathleen Folbigg and two of her children were thought to be “incompatible with life” before they were discovered a decade ago.

An inquiry is examining the death of Ms Folbigg’s four children as she seeks to be pardoned and released from prison after serving 19 years behind bars.

She was convicted of three counts of murder and one count of manslaughter over the deaths of her children Patrick, Sarah, Laura and Caleb, who all died between 1989 and 1999.

Folbigg, 55, has been in jail since 2003 but has consistently denied smothering her children in their sleep.

New expert medical evidence published in March last year cast doubt on her guilt, after it showed Sarah and Laura Folbigg carried a genetic mutation – known as CALM2 G114R – which could cause cardiac problems and lead to sudden death.

Folbigg failed to have her convictions quashed during two unsuccessful appeals and a public inquiry in 2019 again reinforced her guilt.

The inquiry is being heard by retired NSW Supreme Court justice Tom Bathurst QC, with a report to be prepared before the governor as she asks to be pardoned.

Folbigg’s barrister, Gregory Woods QC, previously told the inquiry it could not be “properly excluded” that the girls’ deaths were caused by the CALM2 G114R mutation.

Professor Michael Toft Overgaard – one of two Danish genetic experts appearing before the inquiry on Tuesday – was part of the team which discovered the first CALM mutation in 2012 and had since co-authored 15 papers on the topic.

“It was regarded in the scientific community that up until 2012, variations in calmodulin were incompatible with life,” Professor Overgaard told the inquiry on Tuesday.

The inquiry has been told that every heartbeat depends on a complex chain of openings and closings of muscles and the passage of calcium, sodium and potassium and that the opening and closing of those channels is affected by the calmodulin protein.

“They had a hard time believing we really identified a person or a family with a variant,” Professor Mette Nyegaard told the inquiry.

Each of Folbigg’s four children died in their sleep in the family’s Newcastle home and were discovered by Folbigg.

In 2005, following an appeal, her sentence was reduced from 40 years to 30 years and she will first be eligible for parole in April 2028.

During her trial, the prosecution argued Folbigg killed her four children by smothering them, but she has maintained they died of natural causes.

The inquiry continues.

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