Kathleen Folbigg has been pardoned and released after two decades in prison over the deaths of her four children, following a decision of the New South Wales attorney general, Michael Daley.
Folbigg, who has always maintained her innocence, had served 20 years of a 25-year sentence since being convicted in 2003 of murdering three of her children, and the manslaughter of one child.
Mr Daley on Monday released summary findings prepared by an inquiry into Folbigg’s convictions, led by the former state chief justice Thomas Bathurst.
Mr Bathurst told the attorney general that he had reached “a firm view that there was reasonable doubt as to the guilt of Ms Folbigg for each of the offences for which she was originally tried”.
This prompted Mr Daley to recommend to the state’s governor that Folbigg be unconditionally pardoned and released immediately.
She was subsequently released from the Clarence correctional centre, near Grafton, shortly after 11am.
The pardon does not erase Folbigg’s convictions, but supporters were on Monday already calling for “very, very significant” compensation for her.
Mr Bathurst is expected to complete his final report within weeks, after which time the convictions could be quashed in the state’s court of criminal appeal.
While he would not take a view on Folbigg’s innocence, Mr Daley said it was a tragic case.
“We’ve got four little bubbas who are dead. We have a husband and wife who lost each other, a woman who spent 20 years in jail and a family that never had a chance,” he said.
“You’d not be human if you didn’t feel something about that.”
Peter Yates, a friend and supporter, confirmed Folbigg had been released and was on her way home, with her lawyer on the way to Grafton to meet her after the surprise pardon on Monday morning.
While he had not spoken to her, Mr Yates said she would be “so happy”, but noted she had been locked up for two decades and no one could “just wave a wand” and make it all OK.
“[Compensation] is a matter that we will be discussing with the state in due course,” he said.
“I think people in NSW would expect that compensation to be very, very significant.”
Mr Bathurst advised there was a reasonable possibility that three of the children died of natural causes. In the case of daughters Sarah and Laura Folbigg, there was a reasonable possibility a genetic mutation known as CALM2-G114R occasioned their deaths.
The council assisting the inquiry, Sophie Callan SC, had earlier said there was “persuasive expert evidence” that one of Folbigg’s sons, Patrick, may have died from an underlying neurogenetic disorder such as epilepsy.
In relation to the death of a fourth child, Caleb, Bathurst found that “the coincidence and tendency evidence which was central to the (2003) Crown case falls away”.
Mr Bathurst was “unable to accept ... the proposition that Ms Folbigg was anything but a caring mother for her children”.
He said diary entries used to convict her were the writings of a grieving and possibly depressed mother, blaming herself for the death of each child, as distinct from admissions that she murdered or otherwise harmed them.
Mr Daley said he was open to any legal changes that were required to avoid such a situation in the future.
The NSW Greens’ justice spokeswoman, Sue Higginson, was jubilant that Folbigg had been released and said it had only happened after years of “influence and agitation”.
“She’s walking, she’s outside, she’s in the sunshine ... justice has been done,” she said.
“This is our Lindy Chamberlain case.”
Ms Higginson also indicated that Folbigg will be pursuing compensation for the “20 years of her life that has been lost”.
Folbigg is expected to spend the night with lifelong friend and advocate Tracy Chapman. – The Guardian