Kathleen Folbigg, right, is hugged by friend Tracy Chapman outside the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, December 14, 2023. An appeals court overturned all convictions against Folbigg, 20 years after a jury found her guilty of killing her four children. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian appeals court on Thursday overturned all convictions against a woman 20 years after a jury found her guilty of murdering her four children.

Kathleen Folbigg has already been pardoned by order of the New South Wales state government and released from prison in June, based on new scientific evidence that her four children may have died of natural causes, as she insisted.

The pardon was seen as the quickest way to get the 56-year-old out of prison before an inquiry into the new evidence recommended the New South Wales Court of Appeal consider overturning her convictions.

Applause filled the courtroom and Folbigg cried after Chief Justice Andrew Bell overturned three murder convictions and one manslaughter conviction.

“Although the verdicts at the trial were reasonably open based on the available evidence, there is now reasonable doubt as to Ms. Folbigg’s guilt,” Bell said.

“It is appropriate that Ms. Folbigg’s convictions…be vacated,” Bell said.

Outside court, Folbigg thanked his supporters, lawyers and scientists for clearing his name.

“For nearly a quarter of a century, I faced disbelief and hostility. I suffered abuse in all its forms. I hoped and prayed that one day I could be here with my name cleared,” Folbigg said.

“I’m grateful that updated science and genetics have given me answers about how my children died,” she said through tears.

But she said evidence available at the time of her trial that her children had died of natural causes was ignored or dismissed.

“The system preferred to blame me rather than accept that sometimes children can and do die suddenly, unexpectedly and painfully,” Folbigg said.

His lawyer, Rhanee Rego, said his legal team would now demand “substantial” compensation from the state government for the years spent in prison. Folbigg has been labeled in the media as Australia's worst serial killer.

The inquiry that recommended Folbigg's pardon and acquittal was prompted by a petition signed in 2021 by 90 scientists, doctors and related professionals who argued that significant new evidence showed that the children likely died of natural causes.

Their first son, Caleb, was born in 1989 and died 19 days later in what a jury determined was the lesser crime of manslaughter. Their second child, Patrick, was 8 months old when he died in 1991. Two years later, Sarah died at 10 months. In 1999, Folbigg's fourth daughter, Laura, died at 19 months.

Prosecutors argued that she suffocated them. She was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

In 2018, evidence was discovered that both daughters carried a rare CALM2 genetic variant that could have caused their sudden deaths.

Experts also testified that myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, was also a possible cause of Laura's death.

There was also expert evidence that Patrick's sudden death was possibly caused by an underlying neurogenetic disorder.

Scientific explanations for the three brothers' deaths undermined prosecutors' argument that the tragedies established a pattern of behavior that pointed to Caleb's likely manslaughter.

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