I went to school with Kathleen Folbigg. Well, she was Kathy Marlborough back then. We weren’t close, but we moved in the same circles. She’s probably the most famous person to attend my high school. Well, she’s definitely the most infamous. That’s because she’s serving 30 years behind bars for murdering her four children. Her first baby, Caleb, lived 19 days. Her second baby, Patrick, lived eight months. Her third baby, Sarah, lived 10 months. Her fourth baby, Laura, lived 19 months. The first three deaths were initially attributed to cot death. When Laura died, the police opened a murder investigation. Kathy’s trial had shades of Lindy Chamberlain to it. She was accused of being cold, not showing enough emotion. Like Lindy Chamberlain, people decided she was guilty before the trial even started. Unlike Lindy Chamberlain, most people still hold that opinion. Last year, Kathy sent me a book called Murder, Medicine & Motherhood. It was written by a Canadian legal academic, Emma Cunliffe. Cunliffe spent six years researching Kathy’s case and concluded she shouldn’t have been found guilty based on the evidence presented in court. I read Cunliffe’s book and it made a very compelling argument. The only thing that still unsettled me was Kathy’s diary. Some of those diary entries were pretty chilling. Kathy explained them to the police, but the tapes cut out at the crucial moment. Kathy chose not to take the stand during her trial. I’ve never discussed the diary with her. Whenever I visit her in prison, we’re surrounded by prison guards, inmates and their families. Letters don’t feel safe either. People have betrayed Kathy before. When she wrote to her step-sister to say the diaries were “not literal”, the letter appeared in a newspaper. Last time we met, I told Kathy she must explain the diary if she gets a retrial. But her chances of a retrial are so slim they’re close to non-existent. Cunliffe has written to the attorney general requesting one, but her pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Why would the attorney general make such a monumental decision without intense public pressure? Certainly not when the majority of New South Welshmen seem so keen to keep Kathy behind bars. I visit Kathy once, twice, maybe three times a year. (I wrote about a typical visit in a previous blog, called Jail Break.) I go because I feel terribly sorry for her. I should visit more often, but life seems to get in the way. Jail is a depressing place, which makes it easy to avoid. When I do visit, I spend a few hours talking to a woman who becomes more institutionalised with each passing year. I have no idea how she’ll cope in the outside world when she’s finally released. But I’m constantly amazed by how positive and upbeat she remains despite her situation. If I was locked up, I’d be a cot-case. I’d be sobbing like Kelli Lane – the one who permanently misplaced her baby, Tegan – does every time I’m there (and probably the other 22 hours of every single day too). Kathy stays strong. Kathy believes in her innocence. Kathy has bunkered down to serve her time with as little drama as possible. When I leave, I shudder and think: “Imagine losing four kids to cot death, being found guilty of their murder and going to prison.” It’s the stuff of nightmares. People are wrongly convicted all the time. Last year, Michael Morton was released after 25 years in prison, when new DNA evidence showed he hadn’t killed his wife. Boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was wrongly jailed for triple homicide and served 18 years behind bars. Donald Marshall was jailed at age 17 for a crime he didn’t commit and spent 11 years incarcerated. And Lindy Chamberlain spent four years in jail, giving birth as a prisoner. Even if you believe Kathy is guilty, does she really belong in jail? No sane mother would do the things she’s supposed to have done. No insane mother ever gets the psychiatrict help they so desperately need behind bars. But I’m convinced there’s reasonable doubt in Kathy’s case. You don’t throw away the key when there’s reasonable doubt. She should get that retrial. God knows how though.
Murder, medicine and motherhood
January 6, 2012
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