Nearly two decades after an Australian woman was convicted of murdering her four children, a group of scientists says they believe she’s innocent.
Kathleen Folbigg was found guilty in 2003 of smothering her children — Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura — each before their second birthday, after she reported finding them, one after another, lifeless in their cribs.
She was sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder and manslaughter with a non-parole period of 30 years — which was reduced to 25 years after an appeal.
Now, 18 years into her sentence, a group of 90 scientists have submitted a petition to pardon Folbigg for what they call “a miscarriage of justice.”
“There is no medical evidence” to support the prosecution’s case that Folbigg smothered each of the children, the scientists argue.
Instead, the group says they believe that the babies may have died of genetic causes.
In 2018, geneticists found that both Sarah and Laura had a genetic mutation in the CALM2 gene, which can cause sudden death in infants and children, according to the petition.
Scientists are still working to determine if there are strong genetic links to the boys’ deaths, pediatric geneticist Jozef Gecz told the Associated Press.
An autopsy performed at the time of death showed that Patrick, who died at 8 months, suffered from epilepsy. His death was attributed to airway obstruction due to a seizure and an infection, AP reports.
Caleb’s death at just 19 days old was reported as sudden infant death syndrome.
In the petition, the scientists argue that Folbigg’s conviction is based in part on the discredited theory coined “Meadow’s Law,” which assumes that the likelihood of more than two children from one family dying of genetic causes is so unlikely that there must be foul play involved.
However, Gecz — who works with children suffering rare and fatal disabilities and is one of the 90 experts to sign the petition — explains that this is no longer a scientifically supported theory.
“We know now from a lot of our work with families who are unfortunate in that they carry genetic risk that it does happen,” he told the AP.
In addition to Meadow’s Law, prosecutors also used circumstantial evidence, including interpretations of vague entries from Folbigg’s journal to make their case, the petition states.
One such entry read, “Obviously, I am my father’s daughter,” which prosecutors interpreted as Folbigg admitting she had “inherited the sin of killing” from her father, who stabbed Folbigg’s mother to death when Folbiig was 18 months old, according to AP.
Folbigg denied this interpretation, testifying that “I believed and thought at the time that my father’s actions ruined my life and my life never seemed to go right from there.”
In their petition, the scientists write that the courts have rejected medical evidence in favor of the journal entries, “which contained no admissions of guilt.”
“A reasonable person should have doubt about Ms. Folbigg killing her four children,” the petition reads. “Deciding otherwise rejects medical science and the law that sets the standard of proof.”
“Ms. Folbigg has suffered and continues to suffer emotional and psychological trauma and physical abuse in custody,” the petitioners write. “She has endured the death of her four children and has been wrongfully incarcerated because the justice system has failed her.”
The application for a pardon will be decided by the Governor of New South Wales. A lawyer for Folbigg did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Not one, not two, not three — but FOUR kids? Those scientists better have some damn good data.