Nobel Laureates and leading scientists call for Kathleen Folbigg pardon

March 04, 2021
From left: Academy President Professor John Shine, Professors Carola Vinuesa, Fiona Stanley and Jozef Gecz and Former Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb.

Ninety eminent scientists—including two Australian Nobel Laureates, medical practitioners, science leaders and prominent Australians—have signed a petition calling for Kathleen Folbigg’s immediate pardon and release from jail.

Kathleen Folbigg was convicted and jailed in 2003 for murdering her children Patrick, Sarah and Laura and for the manslaughter of Caleb.

The petition argues that Ms Folbigg should be granted a pardon based on the significant scientific evidence of natural causes of death for her children.

The group submitted the petition to the Governor of NSW, the Honorable Margaret Beazley AC, earlier this week.

The petition includes medical and scientific explanations from leading experts in their field that address each of the Folbigg children’s deaths.

The petition concludes:

The executive prerogative of mercy is designed to deal with failures of the justice system such as this one. It is incumbent on the Governor to exercise her power to stop the ongoing miscarriage of justice suffered by Ms Folbigg. Not to do so is to continue to deny Ms Folbigg basic human rights and to decrease faith in the New South Wales justice system.

Ms Folbigg’s case also establishes a dangerous precedent as it means that cogent medical and scientific evidence can simply be ignored in preference to subjective interpretations of circumstantial evidence.

Australian Academy of Science President, Professor John Shine AC PresAA FAHMS(Hon) FRS is among the petition’s signatories.

“Given the scientific and medical evidence that now exists in this case, signing this petition was the right thing to do,” Professor Shine said.

“These matters are incredibly complex. As our scientific knowledge deepens, so does the complexity, which makes the job of the courts a more complex one too.

“We want to work more closely with the legal community to ensure evidence placed before courts is presented in the most accurate way possible, using the most appropriate experts and the most up-to-date science,” Professor Shine said.

ANU Professor of Immunology Carola Vinuesa FAA FAHMS also signed the petition. She gave evidence to an inquiry into Ms Folbigg’s convictions and was asked to analyse the genomes of Kathleen and her four children in early 2019.

“In all four Folbigg children, there is credible medical and pathological evidence, including new peer-reviewed genetic findings, by an international team of 27 scientists published in a top international cardiology journal last year, that points towards natural causes of death,” said Professor Vinuesa.

“It is our responsibility as scientists to assist our legal peers so that they can rely on scientific, peer-reviewed evidence and ensure that domain experts are at their disposal to solve the issues of a difficult legal case.”

Other petition signatories and Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science highlight below why they signed the petition.

“It is deeply concerning that medical and scientific evidence has been ignored in preference of circumstantial evidence. We now have an alternative explanation for the death of the Folbigg children” – Child and public health researcher Professor Fiona Stanley AC FAA FAHMS(Hon) FASSA.

“The science in this particular case is compelling and cannot be ignored. Despite the new knowledge gained from sequencing the human genome almost 20 years ago, we still have some way to go when it comes to both understanding the complexities of genetic disorders and educating the community about these issues” – Human geneticist and researcher Professor Jozef Gecz FAA FAHMS.

“Expert advice should always be heard, and listened to. It will always trump presumption” – Former Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb AC FAA FTSE.

Read the petition (PDF 7.4MB)



The above video features Professor Carola Vinuesa explaining the genetic findings that point towards natural causes of death.

Last year a panel of experts from the Australian Academy of Science and Australian Academy of Law explored the topic of scientific proof and legal proof in a joint symposium.

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