SUB-HEADING: "She's set to languish in jail - in protective custody - for at least the next 14 years, but supporters of Kathleen Folbigg fear she is the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Nikki Barrowclough investigates the case of the woman convicted of killing her four children."

GIST: "In April 2003, Folbigg stood trial for the deaths of her children. After a seven-week case that gripped the nation - newspapers raked over every inch of her life, from her troubled childhood to the clothes she wore in court - Folbigg was found guilty of three counts of murder and one of manslaughter. Today, she remains in custody at Sydney's Silverwater Women's jail. And yet doubts remain over her conviction. Some academics worry about the medical evidence, in particular the results of Laura's autopsy, which raised the possibility that the baby had died of an inflammatory condition of the heart known as myocarditis. Yet the forensic pathologist who carried out the post-mortem ruled her death as "undetermined". In court, he said his ruling hadn't been coloured by the deaths of Folbigg's other children, but in a letter he'd previously written to the investigating detective, he said had he not known about the family history he might have ruled myocarditis. However, he stressed that he did not believe this was the likely cause. Others fear Folbigg was a victim of a climate of suspicion around SIDS. Until the early '90s, SIDS was considered a mysterious tragedy - probably caused by sleep abnormalities. Mothers of children who died were treated with sympathy, not scepticism. Then, in 1994, Waneta Hoyt, 47, a New York mother of five babies whose deaths had previously been attributed to SIDS, confessed to killing the children. After that, the pendulum swung back - hard - to the notion of murderous mothers. Consequently, mothers were rarely given the benefit of the doubt, even in the absence of incriminating evidence, according to Australian legal academic Associate Professor Emma Cunliffe, who wrote a book about Folbigg in 2011 called Murder, Medicine And Motherhood. Professor Cunliffe's book - which triggered fresh interest in Folbigg's case - set out to examine the quality of the evidence. Speaking from Canada, where she is now based, Professor Cunliffe says she was particularly interested "to see why the Folbigg conviction stuck" after other mothers overseas, who had also been found guilty of killing multiple infants in similar SIDS-related cases, had been acquitted or exonerated, or had the charges against them dropped. Professor Cunliffe points to the case of Sally Clark, a 35-year-old English solicitor who was convicted in 1999 of murdering her two sons. Like Folbigg, Clark's children died within weeks of being born, and at first their deaths were attributed to SIDS. Like Folbigg, Clark was charged and convicted of their murders. However, three years later, her conviction was quashed on the basis that the medical evidence presented to the court had been incomplete - and that the case relied on a now discredited theory known as "Meadow's Law". (A coroner ruled that Clark's tragic death, in 2007, was accidental: the result of acute alcohol intoxication.)
Meadow's Law refers to the saying by a prominent British paediatrician, Professor Sir Roy Meadow, that "one [SIDS] death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder unless proven otherwise". In the Clark case, Professor Meadow told the jury there was a one in 73 million chance of two cot deaths occurring in the same family. But he had used a statistical method that has since been disproven. Did Meadow's Law play a role in helping convict Folbigg? When she was first arrested in 2001, American paediatric forensic pathologist Dr Janice Ophoven gave evidence at the committal hearing. She said the chances of four unexplained infant deaths from natural causes were one in a trillion, but she had used the same, discredited method Professor Meadow had relied on. Justice Graham Barr excluded these flawed statistics and mention of Meadow's Law at Folbigg's trial. Even so, Professor Cunliffe in particular believes it may have indirectly played a part in her conviction. "While the judge excluded the improper statistical evidence that some experts wished to explain to the jury, he did not exclude opinions that were based on the underlying reasoning of Meadow's Law," she says. "Several prosecution witnesses seemingly allowed their belief in Meadow's Law to influence their conclusions about the likely cause of death in Folbigg's children." Since Folbigg's trial there has also been greater acknowledgement that SIDS is complex and may have many causes. Professor John Hilton, a prominent Sydney forensic pathologist who once chaired the SIDS International Pathology Committee, says that, realistically, those causes include covert homicide. But he also refers to recent SIDS research that suggests subtle genetic abnormalities could be at play: the most common of which, heart defects, may as yet be undetectable under a microscope. These types of medical advances are at the heart of a fresh attempt to convince authorities to review her case.

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