Australian academics have successfully pushed for the review of a historic murder case. 

In March last year, over a hundred eminent scientists, including several Nobel Laureates, signed a petition seeking the immediate release of Kathleen Folbigg. 

Last year’s petition was based on new medical and scientific evidence that came to light after a 2019 inquiry, which suggests a rare genetic condition could provide an alternative explanation for the deaths of Ms Folbigg’s children. 

In particular, the new evidence dealt with the findings that Ms Folbigg’s female children had a pathogenic genetic variant capable of causing cardiac arrest and death.

This week, NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman announced that a second inquiry into the case of Kathleen Folbigg will be held, showing there are serious doubts about her conviction.

The Australian Academy of Science says it intends to assist Chief Justice Tom Bathurst by making available suitable experts to advise on the medical, genetic, diary and probabilistic evidence. Given the complicated nature of the evidence, this will likely involve recruiting experts from around the world.

The experts say they will push for her immediate pardon. 

“It is disappointing, given the strength of the medical and scientific findings, that Ms Folbigg has not been granted a pardon,” says Australian Academy of Science Fellow Professor Carola Vinuesa.

“The evidence goes well beyond raising a reasonable doubt and instead provides the likely explanation for the natural deaths of Ms Folbigg’s children.

“In 2019 we discovered the rare gene mutation in both Folbigg girls and in 2020 an international team of 27 scientists led by Danish Professor Michael Toft Overgaard demonstrated through biochemical testing that this mutation is pathogenic.”

The mutation disrupts the normal heart rhythm and can cause sudden cardiac death. The first outward sign of the disease can be a child dying while they sleep. 

The biochemical testing showed that the effects of the variant found in the Folbigg family are as severe as those of other mutations that have led to sudden cardiac death in young children.

As there was never any evidence of child abuse, the most likely explanation for the deaths of Sarah and Laura Folbigg is that they died from a sudden cardiac arrest caused by the genetic variant they carried, the academy says. 

Lawyer Rhanee Rego said; “In his press conference today, the Attorney General acknowledged the new and critical genetic evidence as warranting further public investigation”. 

“We assume Mr Speakman was also compelled by the new expert reports from psychiatrists, psychologists and linguists, which all say there are no confessions of murder in the diaries.

“We therefore expect a cooperative approach to establishing the scope of the inquiry. For it to be fair and equitable, it must deal comprehensively with the new genetic evidence and the new diary evidence. 

“At Ms Folbigg’s 2003 trial, only a handful of selected words were cherry-picked out of the total 50,000 words written by Ms Folbigg. The same cherry-picked entries were focused on at the 2019 Inquiry.”

“We look forward to world-class experts being able to give their opinions in full to this public inquiry. There are more than 150 eminent scientists and doctors who back the new evidence, including three Nobel Prize Winners.”