Carol Matthey was this week committed to trial for allegedly murdering her four children. Karen Kissane looks at the evidence presented about the case and the woman, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
THERE is no dock in Court 20 at the Melbourne Magistrates Court to separate the accused from the rest of the room. Carol Louise Matthey sat in the front row of the public seating, close to her lawyers but not far from those who had come to watch her case.
She is a solidly built young woman who invariably wore her hair pulled back into a bun or a ponytail. Her clothes were plain: jeans, cotton shirts, pull-on ankle boots. Every day she carried a water bottle and an A4 notebook and pen and took notes as witnesses gave evidence.
Sometimes she had companions sitting in the row behind her, and she would occasionally turn to them and murmur a comment. “Bullshit!” she said audibly once, apparently disagreeing with the evidence being given at the time.
Four children had brought Carol Matthey to this courtroom. The purpose of the hearing was to determine whether she had a case to answer on charges of murdering her four children. The case for the proscecution will not be finalised, and the case for the defence not known, until the matter goes to trial.
The trigger for the case that led to this hearing was her three-year-old daughter, Shania. Shania had been a colicky baby, but she became a happy, cheeky child. She often had a runny nose or a cold because, like many active small children, she liked to strip off her socks and her jumper.
She was a daddy’s girl, according to a statement from a neighbour tendered to the court: “She was always so delighted to see her dad come home in his truck and always spoke of Dad. She also clung to Carol, wanting to be picked up all the time, and always carried her bottle of milk around with her.”
The week she died, she and her parents visited the house of one of her mother’s friends. “Shania was great,” the friend later recalled to police. “She was catching bugs and playing, laughing and giggling. Everyone seemed very happy.”
A few days later, according to her mother, Shania had a mishap. She had been pretending to ride her Barbie doll’s horse on a coffee table. She had fallen off the table and begun to scream. Then she stopped breathing. Her mother rang for an ambulance, saying that her daughter was purple and unconscious. She told the operator that she was beginning resuscitation. Moments later, a child’s gasping cry could be heard.
When Geelong ambulance officers arrived, they found Shania being nursed in Carol Matthey’s arms. The little girl resisted being examined and seemed fine, and the ambulance officers did not know she had reportedly been unconscious and then resuscitated, so it was decided that her mother would take her to the family GP for a check-up.
Shania never made it to that doctor’s appointment. That night, her mother gave her a bottle when she called out for it in the early hours. Carol Matthey got up for her shower the next morning and was surprised, she later said, that Shania did not come into the bathroom when she heard the water running. She said she checked on Shania and found her in bed, not breathing and without a pulse. An ambulance took the child to hospital but she never came out of what doctors call “asystole” – her heart had stopped.
It was Wednesday, April 9, 2003. Shania Jayne Matthey was dead. Her death was unexpected. Shania was the fourth Matthey child to be found suddenly dead. Carol and Stephen Matthey had already lost three other children, who had died as babies. Shania was their fourth child to die in five years, and as a preschooler, was outside the 12-month age limit for sudden infant death syndrome, according to several witnesses. An autopsy failed to find any cause of death.
The police then took an interest in what remained of the Matthey family.
In February last year a police investigation resulted in Carol Matthey, 26, now of Bannockburn, being charged with having murdered the four children: Jacob, Chloe, Joshua and Shania. This week, her committal hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court came to its conclusion.
The Crown case painted her as a killer who smothered one child after the other. Her defence counsel, Ian Hill, QC, said there was no medical evidence that any of the children had been deliberately harmed, and that Matthey had most probably lost her children because of some shared genetic disorder about which medical science knows little or nothing. “The primary and stark question in this case is whether any of these children were killed at all,” he said.
Magistrate Duncan Reynolds had the task of deciding whether to commit Matthey for trial. His work was cut out for him.
CAROL Matthey is the third of five sisters. She left school at 15 to work as a shop assistant at a fruit and vegetable outlet, according to a statement tendered to the court by Jodie Matthey, who is married to one of Carol’s brothers-in-law. The store, plus a 365-hectare market garden at Bannockburn, were owned by the Matthey family. By 16, Carol was dating one of the family sons, Stephen Matthey. They had Jacob in May 1998, and three more children – Shania, then Chloe, then Joshua – in quick suc-cession.
By the time Shania died, the Mattheys were living in the Geelong suburb of Herne Hill, in a plain, brown-brick, three-bedroom house with white net curtains that had been bought for them by Stephen’s parents. Ste-phen Matthey’s family were not a talkative bunch, Jodie Matthey, told the court: “(They) pretty much just talk about business. It’s more about a business relationship than a family.”
Carol had broken off communication with her own parents, Jodie told police: “The reasons for this are very complicated, but it all seemed to stem from her parents never accepting Stephen from the beginning of their relationship.”
According to another statement, from a friend Geraldine Taylor, Carol and Stephen Mattheys’ relationship was “not close. They were not an affectionate couple. They did seem happy, but they were not close or affectionate.”
Stephen Matthey worked long hours, according to a statement from a neighbour, Dorothy Minett: “Onmarket days, he would leave home between 12am and 1am, and on normal days he would leave for work about 5am. He would (never) get home before 6.30pm or 7pm.”
A number of witnesses who knew Carol Matthey in everyday life were called or statements were tendered from them, including two relatives, two playgroup friends and a neighbour, as well as her maternal and child health nurse and both her bereavement social workers. Each stated that from what they had seen, she was a normal, loving mother.
Minett told police, “Carol seemed very good with Shania. I never, ever noticed anything untoward about Carol’s parenting of Shania or any of her children.” Said Taylor, a mother at the Matthey children’s playgroup: “I have never seen her spanking her children, ever. (She raised her voice) every now and again, but she was very calm.”
All these witnesses stated that Matthey was a quiet, reserved woman who was not one to show her feelings. Jodie Matthey had found her to be a good friend; when Jodie was in a wheelchair with multiple fractures following a car smash that also injured her daughter, “Carol would visit me often and help me look after my family.”
Sergeant Solomon, the primary police investigator, found Carol Matthey to be calm and relaxed when he first interviewed her at her home. He also noted two black plastic boxes on top of a microwave oven in her kitchen. In response to his question, Matthey said they contained the brains of two of her dead children, Shania and Joshua. The Coroner’s Court had kept the brains for further testing. “The accused explained that it was her intention to have the two brains and Joshua’s ashes placed with Shania (in her grave) in due course,” Solomon said in his statement, which was tendered to the court.
According to Crown prosecutor Susan Pullen, SC, the first indication of Matthey’s allegedly “violent relationship” with her children came before any of the deaths. It was a house fire in August 1998, when she was the only adult at home.
A fireman at the scene briefly recorded the probable cause as a fault in the newly installed central heating system, and an insurance company paid the Mattheys’ claim. But two expert witnesses told the court they believed the fire actually began in a child’s bedroom. Country Fire Authority investigator Graham Lay said he had pulled the heating unit apart and found no fault with it, and that the pattern of charring showed that the fire began above the floorboards, not in the heating ducts below.
Gerard Nealon, a forensic scientist who investigated the blaze for the insurance company, also believed that the fire started in the bedroom, and that its lighting probably had involved “some kind of naked flame with some human involvement”.
A few weeks after the fire, Carol and Stephen Matthey wed in a private ceremony.
The first death came four months later.
Died aged seven months on December 8, 1998
On October 28, 1998, an ambulance was called for six-month-old Jacob, whom his mother described as being purple and having trouble breathing. One of the ambulance officers, Anthony Clark, told the court that he had trouble finding the house, and that no one came out to flag the ambulance down. “When we arrived, (Carol Matthey) and a male were sitting on the front step. I thought they were having a cigarette at the time.”
“Even before the time I knew Mrs Matthey had been charged, it always struck me as odd the way she presented,” Clark said.”
She was devoid of all emotion … (and) when we arrived at the scene, they weren’t actively looking after the child.” The Mattheys sent the ambulancemen to the back of the house, where Jacob was found pale, unresponsive and grunting.
Children’s neurologist Dr Ian Hopkins, who treated Jacob, concluded that he had suffered “a significant sudden insult to the brain”, which can depress breathing and consciousness. Such “insults” could be caused by head injury, metabolic disorders or impaired circulation as a result of epileptic seizures. A seizure could also be the result of having been deprived of oxygen.
There was not strong evidence for an infection in Jacob’s case, Hopkins told the court, although he did have an enlarged liver and spleen and a high count of white blood cells. Jacob recovered, and no cause for this episode was ever found.
Dr Janice Ophoven, an American forensic pediatric pathologist and medical examiner, reviewed the Matthey files and was flown toMelbourne fromMinnesota to give evidence. She told the court she believed Jacob’s “apparent life-threatening episode” was consistent with him having been partially suffocated. His white cell count was “most telling”: “Children who have been asphyxiated will have a sudden and substantial rise in white blood count in the absence of infection … I have substantial experience with children who have been suffocated short of death and rushed to hospital with signs and symptoms similar to this, and they recover essentially completely, without diagnosis, after receiving an insult to the brain.”
Ophoven said she had seen children who were resuscitated from “multiple asphyxial episodes” before they were eventually killed. Medical staff often don’t suspect deliberate smothering “because, unfortunately, it takes the death of more than one child for people to figure out what’s going on”.
On December 8, five weeks after his episode, Jacob died. Jodie Matthey told police that when she arrived at the family home that afternoon after a call from a relative, ambulancemen were trying to revive the baby, and his parents “were both extremely upset and crying”.
Pediatric pathologist Dr Peter Campbell did the autopsy. He concluded that while bronchitis was a possible cause of death, the findings better reflected sudden infant death syndrome.
Dr Susan Beal, an Adelaide SIDS expert who has attended the death scenes of more than 500 babies, told the court that there had been such a poor death scene investigation in Jacob’s case that his cause of death should be called undetermined rather than SIDS, although SIDS remained a likely diagnosis.
She wrote in her report, tendered to the court, that factors weighted towards “filicide” (killing by a parent) include Jacob’s previous unexplained apparent lifethreatening episode, “which increases the possibility of non-accidental injury”, and his age (most SIDS deaths occur between one and six months.) Ophoven said she believed blood found in Jacob’s nose was due to the kind of injury seen in suffocation, where blood can be seen without any other sign of injury. The blood did not come from a “bloody purge” from his lungs, or it would also have been found in his airways, she said.
Those dealing with the Mattheys following Jacob’s death saw a normal grieving couple. Nerida Mulvey, a SIDS counsellor who was called in to help the family, later told police that Carol and Stephen Matthey seemed to experience the kind of grief common to SIDS families, expressing intense anger about Jacob’s death and looking for ways to memorialise him.
Died aged nine weeks on November 27, 2000
Carol Matthey became pregnant again soon after Shania was born in November 1999.
Chloe was born on September 14, 2000.
Geraldine Taylor saw Chloe at a playgroup party a few days before she died. “I held her for a while and she was fine. She was a beautiful baby.”
The day Chloe died, Jodie Matthey received a call from Carol asking her to come over. “I asked her why, and she said, ‘Don’t worry,’ and then hung up. I called her back straight away and said, ‘I’ll be there in a minute’. I knew something was wrong by the tone of her voice. When I arrived at her place, I found two ambulances there, and Carol was crying hysterically.
Chloe was on the bed in Carol and Stephen’s room with the ambulance people trying to revive her.” They all went to hospital, where Chloe was pronounced dead.
Neighbour Dorothy Minett later went over to visit Carol: “She looked dazed. She wasn’t crying but looked in a world of her own … For a couple of days Carol wouldn’t respond to anybody. She just lay in bed and wouldn’t eat or drink. I couldn’t get her to speak.”
JodieMatthey, too, saw CarolMatthey as devastated: “I recall her asking me why Chloe had to die. She said losing one child was bad enough, but not two.”
Dr Peter Campbell, who had conducted the autopsy on Jacob, also did the postmortem examination of Chloe. He concluded again that this was SIDS, a diagnosis used for mystery deaths of babies aged under 12 months.
SIDS is what doctors call “a diagnosis of exclusion”-it is what one concludes when all other reasonable possibilities have been eliminated. It is a category into which many different causes of death that are as yet unknownmight fall, including heart, respiratory and metabolic problems.
In recent years science has unravelled some of its mysteries. About 10 to 15 per cent of cases that were previously called SIDS are now known to be the result of genetic flaws that produce conditions such as Brugada syndrome or long QT syndrome, in which sudden, dramatic problems with heartbeat can cause unexpected death.
SIDS rates generally have plummeted in the Western world since it was discovered that lying babies on their backs to sleep helps prevent it.
According to Professor Stephen Cordner, director of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and another expert who reviewed the Matthey cases, SIDS is a diagnosis that does encompass “the possibility of smothering, although in the minds of parents and perhaps some pathologists it has acquired the status of natural causes”.
Campbell wrote in his autopsy report on Chloe that SIDS “is a diagnosismade after a full post-mortem examination including X-rays, microbiology, toxicology and metabolic study fails to explain death … While a second child in a family can die of SIDS by chance, recurrence raises the possibility of an inherited or genetic condition as a possible cause, as well as the spectre of nonaccidental injury.”
Chloe showed no sign of deliberate injury, he wrote, and metabolic tests were normal. “Other metabolic conditions, as yet unknown, may still be the cause of these two children’s deaths, but we have no way of diagnosing those at present.”
Ophoven said she would call Chloe’s cause of death undetermined, rather than SIDS, because it was not possible to exclude homicide. Dr Beal would call it undetermined because Carol Matthey had told an investigating forensic officer that she had laid Chloe to sleep on her back, and babies did not die of SIDS while on their backs unless their faces were covered.
Died aged three months on July 10, 2002
“Carol became pregnant again some months after Chloe’s death,” Jodie Matthey said in her statement. “Again, Carol was happy about being pregnant but was even more concerned now. I could tell by the look on her face that she was concerned about the wellbeing of the child she was expecting.”
Joshua’s birth, on March 30, 2002, was difficult. He was born by emergency caesarean six weeks premature with the cord prolapsed, and his mother was ill herself afterwards. Given the family’s history of SIDS, Joshua was given an apnoea monitor for use at home, which had an alarm that would go off if he stopped breathing. Joshua started projectile vomiting. He had developed pyloric stenosis, a problem with the digestive tract that could be fixed by a minor operation. He was admitted to the Royal Children’s Hospital and had surgery on May 10, 2002.
What happened while Joshua was in hospital, and the possible reasons for it, has triggered one of themost dramatic divisions of opinion between highly respected doctors in this case.
The operation Joshua had was so minor that it does not even involve the cutting of muscle, and the incision, just near the belly button, is small. But nurses noted that Joshua seemed to be in significant pain afterwards. Wrote one at the time: “He was extremely pale, arching backwards and his whole body was totally stiff. I was unable to move his neck due to his rigidity. His face was grimacing, very tense and flexed. His hands and feet were clenched. Baby had minimal respiratory effort . . .”
Joshua was given morphine for his pain and an hour later stopped breathing. He was resuscitated and stayed on a ventilator for 60 hours. Four hours after his initial arching, he was still tense, sensitive, startled at noise and resisted handling – and “a child with a morphine overdose would (normally) be a rag doll”, director of surgery Dr John Hutson told the court.
Dr Peter McDougall was the neonatal pediatrician overseeing Joshua’s postoperative care. He believes the baby’s arching was a response to pain and that his breathing stopped because of the dose of morphine he was given for that pain.
McDougall told the court he certainly did not share the views of Hutson, who believed that Joshua’s arching could have been due to a more sinister cause: being poisoned with strychnine after he returned to the ward from surgery.
Hutson told the court that Joshua’s pain was disproportionate, and that a baby with abdominal pain would normally not arch because it would pull the wound tighter.
Joshua also required ventilation for five times as long as a normal baby who had reacted badly to morphine. “We couldn’t understand why he was taking so long to get better.”
Hutson realised later that Joshua’s symptoms, such as neck stiffness and ultrasensitivity to handling, were classic for both tetanus and strychnine poisoning, but tetanus was extremely unlikely in a baby so young.
Hutson acknowledged that he did not think of this theory at the time: “We never looked for it, so we never saw it, so we never did any of those tests (for poison) … (but) I think it’s the most likely explanation for the series of events which occurred in the Children’s Hospital, which I have never seen before or since in 25 years as a pediatric surgeon.”
Carol Matthey was stunned and anxious over Joshua’s sudden decline, nursing staff wrote in their notes at the time. Jodie Matthey said Carol had sent her messages during Joshua’s crisis saying she had cried her way through a whole box of tissues.
Joshua recovered and returned home and was noted by a paediatrician onMay 24 to be healthy but a little pale; a blood test found he was anaemic.
The day before he died, Carol Matthey took Joshua to GP Cindy-Lou Nelson. He had an ear infection and Nelson prescribed the antibiotic recommended for this condition, amoxycillin.
The day of his death, July 10, 2002, Carol Matthey and her children were at a supermarket in Corio about 5pm. She later reported that Joshua began to cry, and after about 10 minutes the family returned to the car.Matthey later said she then noticed that Joshua was not breathing and began CPR.
When ambulance officers arrived, they found the baby’s pupils fixed and dilated, his skin pale and his fingers blue. He was pronounced dead at Geelong Hospital.
Pathologist Dr Michael Burke did the autopsy. Swabs he took from Joshua failed to isolate a particular germ. But swabs that had been taken while the baby was at Geelong Hospital were positive for a bug called klebsiella, which is resistant to the amoxycillin that had been prescribed for Joshua. Burke concluded that Joshua had died from klebsiella septicaemia – that is, that the ear infection had turned to blood poisoning.
Dr David Ranson, a forensic pathologist who would later conduct the autopsy on Shania and who reviewed Joshua’s case, told the court he saw no reason not to accept Burke’s finding on Joshua. He pointed out that babies with septicaemia could die very quickly.
But four other doctors doubted the finding.
Forensic pathologist Dr Allan Cala said he accepted that klebsiella was present, but he did not believe it had turned to septicaemia.
Pediatricians Dr KymAnderson and Professor Michael South, and Dr Susan Beal, argued it was more likely that the klebsiella germ had come from contamination of Joshua’s sample in the hospital environment.
Anderson said: “I have never known a child of that age to die quickly from klebsiella septicaemia … they would become sick over a number of hours or even longer, and the child would normally have a fever, be very lethargic, and have been vomiting.
(He) would be obviously very sick.”
After Joshua’s death, Carol Matthey was again laid low. Family friend Geraldine Taylor told police she was so upset that she could not get out of bed. “She was crying and wouldn’t speak and just lay there.”
Taylor said in court: “I just thought it would be a natural reaction after what she had been through.”
Carol and Stephen Matthey were separated at the time of Joshua’s death, according to Jodie Matthey’s statement: “The night that Joshua died they got back together and stayed at their house at Herne Hill.”
The Mattheys’ marriage had been in difficulty; Stephen worked such long hours, and Carol also confided to two friends that she believed him to be having affairs, according to statements. Depression and marital difficulties are not uncommon among couples who have lost children tragically, SIDS counsellor Leona Daniel told the court.
Died aged three years and four months on April 9, 2003
“Very soon after Jacob’s death, Carol became pregnant again,” said Jodie Matthey in her statement. “She was happy about this but concerned the same thing might happen to this child.” On November 18, 1999, Carol Matthey gave birth to Shania. Then she discovered she was pregnant again, with Joshua, despite having had injections of the contraceptive depo provera, she told social worker Nerida Mulvey. “She said that she did not want another pregnancy so soon.”
In July, 2001, Carol Matthey told a GP that Shania had had two episodes where she held her breath or stopped breathing (apnoea) for more than 30 seconds. Shania also had a history of asthma that did not respond readily to Ventolin treatment.
Shania’s breath-holding had been witnessed by at least one other person.
Geraldine Taylor told the court that she had twice seen Shania become distressed after she had a tumble while playing. “She let out a real sobbing cry and then stopped (breathing) … I had heard of other children doing it, but I had never seen it till that day.” Taylor said that both times,Matthey quickly went over to her child, blew in her face to get her breathing started again and comforted her.
When he conducted Shania’s autopsy, forensic pathologist Dr Ranson could find no cause for Shania being found dead in bed the day after her fall from the coffee table. He believed that marks on her mouth were due respectively to a “drying artefact” on her top lip, and the postmortem draining of normal blood supply from her inside bottom lip.
Three forensic odontologists (dentists) who had examined Shania’s mouth at autopsy also agreed that there were no injuries.
But specialists who later looked at postmortem photographs of Shania’s mouth disagreed with this. A fourth forensic odontologist, a pediatric dentist and a forensic pathologist told the court they saw injuries.
These had included an abrasion on the inside of her top lip, and marks on the inside of her bottom lip that looked to be the same size and the same distance apart as her two front top teeth, suggesting her bottom lip might have been pushed against her top teeth.
Forensic pathologist Dr Cala believed they might be signs that “external pressure” had been applied to Shania’s mouth.
Ambulance officers who had tried to resuscitate Shania were mystified by “pink frothy f luid” found in her trachea.
Ranson reported that a subsequent review of all the pathology results for each Matthey child by the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine had not revealed anything that would “permit me to infer” that their deaths were caused by a third party.
At the time of Shania’s death, Carol Matthey seemed to be as distraught as she had been over the other children. When Jodie Matthey heard the news about Shania’s death at 7.40am that day, she made the now-familiar dash to Geelong Hospital. She found Carol Matthey crouched up against a brick wall in the ambulance loading area, her head down, weeping.
Neighbour Dorothy Minett told police that Carol had said she had not been back into Shania’s room since the day she died.
In November 2003, seven months after Shania’s death, Sergeant Solomon found in Shania’s bedroom a small toy Barbie horse and a baby’s bottle full of curdled milk.
ACCORDING to Jodie Matthey’s evidence, Carol Matthey has repeatedly questioned why this has happened to her: “How she could lose four children?” Jodie Matthey stated that the two women have talked together about whether it could be genetic problems, heart problems, asthma-even the types of formulas the children were on. The court heard that the Matthey’s have faced numerous medical tests. Doctors wanted to find out if they had a shared genetic defect that might have caused the four children to die.
Initial DNA testing in Australia suggested that this might be so. Tests in the US, however, found that while the Matthey children all shared a genetic variation, it was a common one and was not linked to any disorder that can kill.
Dr Michael Ackerman runs the Long QT Syndrome Clinic and the Sudden Death Genomics Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic in the US. He reviewed the DNA testing, and in his report, tendered to the court, concluded: “I find no objective evidence to support an argument for a genetic heart rhythm disorder and a resultant lethal ventricular arrhythmia in the four children.”
In his evidence to the hearing, given on video link from Minnesota, he said that if the cause of death was genetic – if all the children died from the same problem – then the autopsy findings should be identical for all four cases. He also said that, if there was a shared genetic disorder, at least one parent should be showing symptoms of it.
Yes, he acknowledged, there can be more than one SIDS death in a family, but “from the vantage point of my long QT clinic and sudden death clinic (which has tested over 2000 patients), this example would be conceded to be an extreme outlier.
I don’t have a single family, in a very large collection of families, where there has been four sudden deaths among infants.”
In fact, as prosecutor Susan Pullen pointed out in a sharp aside to junior defence lawyer Gerard Mulally when he referred to Shania as a baby, Shania was no infant. “She was 3½. Years!”
EXPERTS called in the case were divided over whether it was mother, or Mother Nature, who took the lives of the children, with many agreeing either was a possibility. Drs Beal and Ophoven were firm in their views that homicide was the most likely explanation.
Ophoven, who has performed autopsies on more than 800 babies, wrote: “What we now know is that some children who were diagnosed as SIDS in the past were actually murdered, and families where there were multiple infant deaths attributed to SIDS were actually the victims of serial killings … There are no verified or substantiated cases of four SIDS deaths in one family.”
She wrote that a diagnosis of “homicidal suffocation” was made from evaluating not just the medical findings at autopsy but the circumstances surrounding the fatal events.
In the Matthey case, these included the fact that all four children were with their mother at the time of death, the absence of risk factors for SIDS in some of the children, and a history of possible unwanted pregnancy, as well as autopsy findings such as pulmonary hemorrhage in three of the children and blood in the nose or mouth. “In this case, there is no known entity that is consistent with the facts present to explain these deaths except the homicidal act of another person.”
Beal, for her part, said it would be “very, very unlikely” for even three children in one family to die of SIDS. It was as likely as three children from one family dying in three separate car accidents. “I did see (such a case) once, and I missed it; I was young and innocent, and I didn’t believe mothers killed their children.” Beal said the main cause of SIDS was babies being put to sleep on their stomachs. If a child was found dead on his or her back, as Chloe was, it was questionable that it was SIDS.
With the Matthey family, there was also a history of the children experiencing “ALTEs” – apparent life-threatening episodes in which they stopped breathing or were found unconscious. “ALTES are not a predictor for SIDS; they’re a predictor for (homicide),” Beal said.
But the man who is Melbourne’s head of forensic investigation, Professor Cordner, argued that it was wrong on the pathology evidence to conclude that any of the Matthey children were killed. For example, pulmonary hemorrhage “is a marker of pulmonary congestion, itself a very nonspecific finding common in deaths from many causes”.
Cordner said there was no merit in forcing certainty where uncertainty exists: “It is not for a pathologist to conclude that a number of infant or childhood deaths, with no significant pathological findings at all, are homicides on the basis of controversial circumstantial grounds.”
Over and over again, the defence lawyers returned to this point, arguing that the case should not be assessed on suspicion or even probabilities but on hard facts – and that the hard facts left open the possibility of unknown disorders. Defence counsel Ian Hill challenged Beal and Ophoven with the British case of Angela Canning. Canning lost a daughter and two sons and always maintained that they died of natural causes.
Her 2002 conviction for killing two of her babies has now been overturned as “unsafe”.
In his final submission, Hill said: “The Crown can stand up and say as many times as they wish, ‘Well, you can kill a child without leaving any injury.’ But that’s not going to advance a skerrick or one iota of proof.
You can’t base a case … on suspicion or baseless innuendo … There’s no evidence of human intervention.”
But prosecutor Susan Pullen said it would be possible for a jury, properly instructed, to reach a guilty verdict. A jury could consider the rarity of SIDS and the unlikelihood of it recurring in one family.
The prosecution also relied on the alleged injuries to Shania and other autopsy findings, as well as the children’s apparent lifethreatening episodes: “It would be an affront to commonsense not to be able to consider these events.”
The argument that “in the future we might find something” to explain the deaths as natural causes was a fanciful, debating-point possibility, not a reasonable one, Pullen said. “The jury would have before them evidence of the extensive testing on the children during their lifetime or after their death.”
ON THURSDAY, a subdued Carol Matthey appeared in court to hear magistrate Duncan Reynold’s decision. Dressed in black jeans and a navy roll-neck jumper, she sat quietly.
Her face was impassive as the magistrate announced his decision: she was committed for trial in the Supreme Court on four charges of murder.
Accepting that Matthey’s bail should continue, Reynolds said: “I don’t think it’s a type of case that can be really appropriately categorised as aweak or strong case. All I can say is that it’s not a straightforward case.”
Asked to give her plea, Carol Matthey stood with her hands clasped in front of her said, “Not guilty”.
Shania Jayne
Died at three years and four months in the family home on April 9, 2003
“The external examination, internal examination and specialists tests ¿ have failed to reveal an unequivocal cause of death.” — Dr David Ranson, forensic pathologist who did the autopsy on Shania.
“Attempted suffocation may cause bleeding in the nose, mouth, with aspiration (of blood) into the airway and swallowing of blood into the stomach.
In the case of Shania there is evidence of pre-mortem hemorrhage that was swallowed into the stomach …” — Dr Janice Ophoven.
Joshua Damien
Died at three months in supermarket car park, July 10, 2002
“Cause of death: klebsiella septicaemia … The post-mortem examination of Joshua Matthey demonstrated no injuries.” — Dr Michael Burke, forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Joshua.
“In my opinion, the clinical situation did not fit klebsiella sepsis as being the cause of death.” — Dr Kym Anderson, Joshua’s pediatrician since birth
Jacob John Vincent
Died at seven months in the family home on December 8, 1998
“Cause of Death: sudden infant death syndrome.” — Dr Peter Campbell, pediatric forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Jacob.
“He was lying supine (on his back). Jacob was also outside the SIDS age group, and babies that age can turn their heads very well.” — Dr Janice Ophoven, American pediatric forensic pathologist and medical examiner.
Chloe Isabel
Died at nine weeks in the family home on November 27, 2000
“This child appears to have died from the sudden infant death syndrome … While a second child in a family can die of SIDS by chance, recurrence raises the possibility of an inherited or genetic condition … In Chloe’s case there is no evidence of (non-accidental injury).” — Dr Peter Campbell, pediatric forensic pathologist who did Chloe’s autopsy.
“The factor that increases the likelihood of filicide (killing by a parent) in this infant
is the finding of the child (on her back). In my experience, filicide is 10 times more
common if the infant is found supine than if the infant is found prone.” — Dr Susan Beal, pediatrician and SIDS expert.

First published in The Age.