Andrew L. Urban.
The much delayed second inquiry into the Kathleen Folbigg murder conviction begins this Monday, November 14, 2022. But in a disgraceful disregard for delivering justice in a timely manner, the inquiry won’t hear crucial evidence regarding the interpretation of her diaries until February 2023.
The diaries are central to the case, having provided prosecutors an interpretation that – it has been argued – reflects guilt on her part. This is a key contentious issue, second only to the new scientific evidence that has led to this second inquiry.
It is the diaries that played a crucial role in her 2003 guilty conviction for smothering her four infant children. The judge in the 2003 trial of Kathleen Folbigg described the selected diary entries as “chilling”. They cover her thoughts and fears over the decade of 1989 to 1999 when four of her babies die. But they do not contain any admissions of guilt, according to leading US psychologist and linguistic expert James Pennebaker.
Prof Pennebaker, who has worked for the FBI and CIA on criminal cases, developed a computerised text analysis program that can analyse emotional states and reasoning. He ran Folbigg’s diary entries through the program before he read them. “I use that program to analyse her diaries, and I have hundreds of thousands of other texts that we‘ve collected over the years to come up with some kind of comparison, just to get a sense of what was her psychological state over those years,” Prof Pennebaker said. “I cannot find any admissions of guilt. I cannot find any evidence of any premeditation. I cannot find any convincing evidence of any kind of mental illness.”
The program can identify changes in language and thought if a writer is concealing guilt he said. “There are certain kinds of language use that we know occur when a person is concealing something. And they become less personal, more psychologically distant. And, there again, there‘s just no hint of that. And if she were guilty, she would have hidden her tracks in some way, really working to say that she was happy and peppy, and everything’s great. There’s no, there’s just no hints of that,” he said.
The inquiry will first hear compelling evidence on Monday and Tuesday from scientists who discovered the genetic mutation inherited by Sarah and Laura Folbigg was likely to cause cardiac arrhythmias. On Wednesday, Professors Carola Vinuesa and Todor Arsov who first identified the mutation will give their evidence.
The delay in this second review, which NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman announced in May 2022, are unforgivable, given the very real possibility now, after 19 years in jail, that Folbigg has been wrongfully convicted. Speakman bears responsibility.