Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Her Father's Daughter - The Kathleen Folbigg Story

The Trial

Detective Ryan took two years to assemble a case that prosecutors could try with a good chance of a conviction.

On April 19, 2001, Kathleen Megan Folbigg was arrested at her home, taken into custody, and charged with murdering her four children.

Maitland Local Court
Maitland Local Court

During her bail hearing at Maitland Local Court, Police prosecutor Daniel Maher told the court that the prosecution would show evidence from Folbigg's own diaries, technical evidence from pathology experts, and testimony from her estranged husband to prove that Folbigg had killed her children.

While each child's individual death had not raised much concern, Maher told the court, their collective deaths could only be attributed to suffocation.

He said the circumstances surrounding the deaths were not consistent with sudden infant death syndrome or cot death. This included the fact that each child was found face up, they were still warm when found and in two cases there were signs of life.

He also cited medical evidence from the United States, given by forensic pathologist Dr. Janice Ophoven that showed the chances of cot death being responsible were a trillion to one.

What that means is this is the only case that has occurred in the world. It's just not likely.

He also told the court that Folbigg did not appear to grieve after each childs death.

Extensive tests had ruled out the possibility that the children suffered fatal genetic or viral disorders, he told the court.

While admitting that the diary entries were circumstantial, Maher argued that they contributed to her partial admission of guilt.

Brian Doyle, Folbiggs defense council, told the court the deaths were a coincidence adding, Every one of the children was in fact ill in their lifetime before their death.

He told the court that the medical experts the prosecution would call as expert witnesses had come to their conclusions after being supplied with Mrs. Folbigg's diaries and other statements. So what we have got at the end, wholly and solely, is coincidences, he said.

After hearing submissions, Magistrate Richard Wakely refused bail and ordered Folbigg be held in custody to await trial.

Darlinghurst Supreme Court
Darlinghurst Supreme Court

During the two-month trial at Darlinghurst Supreme court in Sydney, the prosecution led by Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, Q.C., presented strong evidence that portrayed Folbigg as a woman preoccupied with her own life and looks, more interested in going to the gym and nightclubs than looking after her own children.

Focusing on the same evidence presented at the bail hearing, Tedeschi made the assertion that Folbigg had a low stress threshold and killed her four children by smothering each of them over a 10-year period because she could no longer deal with the day-to-day responsibility of being a mother.

Tedeschi also criticized Professor Hilton, the pathologist who had conducted Sarahs post mortem examination. He had been wrong to attribute Sarah's death to SIDS when he was aware of the family history, the prosecutor said.

He told the court that because of Hiltons finding a full police investigation or coronial inquiry was never called.

The court also heard that the chances of Laura dying of SIDS were extremely low because during her life she was exhaustively investigated, monitored and had lived beyond the SIDS danger period.

To support this theory, the prosecution called Dr. Christopher Seeton, the doctor in charge of the sleep investigation unit at Sydneys Westmead Children's Hospital. Seeton told the court that Laura's risk of dying from SIDS compared with other children was infinitely perhaps less than average, which is 1 in 1,000.

The crown also asserted that Folbigg avoided investigation because none of the children had shown signs of abuse so the matter was never reported to the Department of Child Services for attention.

The defense, led by lawyer Peter Zahra, refuted the claim and based their argument on the fact that the children had all been sick prior to their deaths.

To strengthen this argument, Zahra called Professor Roger Byard, a forensic pathologist who told the court that it was possible the children died from suffocation and medical problems relating to each of the four children could explain their deaths in isolation.

Considered an expert on cot deaths, Byard added: But the fact that there are all the other deaths in the family makes me less certain ... I say undetermined because of the circumstances.

Asked in cross-examination whether it was possible the children had died from deliberate suffocation, Byard answered: It was a possibility, but declined to draw a stronger conclusion as he had not examined the death sites and the deceased children himself.

When questioned regarding the deaths of Patrick from epilepsy and Sarah from the heart disease, myocarditis, Professor Byard, said there was nothing in the pathology to show Patrick died of epilepsy, and added that only one child per year in Australia ever died of myocarditis.

Tedeschi shifted his attention to the incriminating diary entries claiming that they showed Kathleen Folbigg as deeply resentful of the intrusion her children had on her own life, in particular on her sleep, her ability to go to the gym, and her ability to socialize including going out dancing.

He drew attention to the fact that Folbigg was worried about her weight, telling the court: She was constantly preoccupied to an exaggerated degree on her weight gain due, in part, to the fact she couldn't get to the gym because of her children," he said.

He called witnesses to attest to the fact that Folbigg showed no obvious reaction to the deaths of her four children.

A hospital nurse described her as detached, and Deborah Grace, Folbiggs neighbor gave evidence that Folbigg was straight-faced after Laura's death. There were no tears in her eyes. There was nothing, she told the court.

Folbiggs foster sister was also called and told the court that Folbiggs demeanor changed suddenly at Laura's funeral from crying to being a totally different person. She was happy, laughing, enjoying a party.

During the presentation of evidence Folbigg remained calm, almost cool but during the fourth week of the trial she broke down as a video recording of her 1999 interview with police was played for the court. Crying uncontrollably, Folbigg attempted to leave the courtroom but was restrained by court staff and conveyed to a nearby hospital where she was sedated. The trial was delayed for several days while she recovered. When it resumed, Craig Folbigg was called to give evidence against his former wife.

In his testimony, he related the details of each babys death and described the terrifying growl that Kathleen would produce when she got frustrated with the children. He also told the court how Kathleen had pinned Laura to her high chair and attempted to force-feed her before dumping her on the floor with the words, "Go to your fucking father." Several hours later, Laura was dead.

Two months after the trial began and the evidence presented, the lawyers for both sides completed their closing statements and the judge directed the jury to retire to consider their verdict. They returned in less than eight hours and told a hushed courtroom that they had reached a verdict. They found Kathleen Megan Folbigg guilty of murdering her four children.

As the verdicts were read, Folbigg broke down and cried and at one point turned toward her sister in the public gallery before slumping forward with her head in her hands.

She was taken to Mulawa Womens Detention center where she was placed in protective isolation, as women in prison take a very dim view of women who kill children, especially their own.

The following August she was returned to court to hear Justice Graham Barr officially sentence her to 40 years in prison with a non-parole period of 30 years.

Craig Folbigg, outside court
Craig Folbigg, outside court

Interviewed outside the court, Craig Folbigg dissolved into tears telling reporters, My humble thanks go to 12 people whom I have never formally met, who today share the honor of having helped set four beautiful souls free. Free to rest in peace finally.

Following the sentencing, Kathleen Folbiggs lawyers also made a brief statement indicating that they would begin working on an appeal at the first opportunity.

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