A 38-year-old Australian man on trial for murder blames the death of his sons on a fit of coughing, according to the September 12 edition of the Herald Sun.

Robert Farquharson’s three boys—ages 10, 7 and 2—drowned near Winchelsea, Victoria, after what Farquharson claimed was a violent bout of coughing caused him to black out and drive the car into a dam during a family outing in 2005.

To lose consciousness while coughing is known as cough syncope, a condition associated with middle-aged heavy smokers who are obese or suffer from certain heart-lung disorders.

The defense lost credibility, however, when university professor and medical practitioner Matthew Naughton—the prosecution’s expert witness—admitted that he had never come across the disease in his quarter-century of experience. Another medical expert in the case testified that less than 2% of Australians had the disorder.

Skepticism grew after it was revealed that cough syncope has never before been documented in a patient with normal lung fuction, a category that would include Farquharson.

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