Friday, November 16, 2007

Smith sorry for errors

Now I've heard everything! When a Chief Coroner can't tell the difference between knife slashing or the bites and ripping that a dog would make, doesn't make any sense to me...and why now?

Surely knife stabbings and a mouth full of teeth would make two totally different types of wounds.

How is it now that after all this time, suddenly a Pit bull is now the culprit? How handy now that they have received a bad reputation, so let's change this charge to, 'the dog did it!' Well, I for one am not buying it.

You can make your own conclusions from reading this article in the Kingston Wig-Standard.

Let's hope this doesn't become an epidemic that gangsters and murders can easily say, 'It was the Pit bull.'

Smith sorry for errors
Posted By Rob Tripp Whig

The doctor whose faulty con-clusions helped put a Kingston woman behind bars for nearly two years says he's "truly sorry" for his "honest" mistakes.

At the opening yesterday of public hearings in a provincial inquiry, Dr. Charles Smith acknowledged publicly for the first time that he made errors during two decades of child-death investigations.

"As this inquiry commences and before any testimony is heard, Dr. Smith wishes to publicly acknowledge to the commission that in the 20 years that he performed autopsies at the direction of the Office of the Chief Coroner, he made a number of mistakes for which he is truly sorry," lawyer Niels Ortved said on behalf of Smith. "Dr. Smith sincerely regrets these mistakes and apologizes to all who may have been affected by his errors."

Smith, who performed more than 1,000 autopsies on contract for the province, testified during a 1999 child death case in Toronto that he had never made a mistake.

Now his errors are at the root of what could be Canada's largest wrongful-conviction scandal. It has torn apart the lives of dozens of people accused of murdering children.

Louise Reynolds is among them.

She was living in a Rosemund Crescent townhouse in Kingston in 1997 when she was charged with murdering her seven-year-old daughter, Sharon.

Late on the evening of June 12, Sharon's horribly mutilated body was found in the basement of the family home.

Smith performed the autopsy on Sharon, concluding she was stabbed to death. Police arrested Reynolds.

When other experts later determined that a pit bull terrier mauled the little girl, the charge was withdrawn, but not before Reynolds had spent 22 months behind bars.

In 2005, another expert reviewed the case and labelled Smith's conclusion a "serious misdiagnosis."

The Reynolds case is one of 20 that are at the heart of the public inquiry. It was called after a review of 45 cases where Smith, once considered a top expert on suspicious child deaths, was involved as a consultant or as the pathologist who conducted the autopsy.

Reviewers found errors in 20 of the 45 cases, including a dozen where there were convictions. One person was found not criminally responsible.

"Dr. Smith wishes to emphasize that any such mistakes were made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations in which he was involved," the doctor said in his statement.

Smith said he did his best with the knowledge and expertise he had at the time.

"In retrospect, he understands that in some of the 20 cases which form the basis of this inquiry, his work, while to the best of his ability at the time, was simply not good enough in certain instances," his lawyer said.

Smith said he did his best to "approach each case in the same objective manner."

Judge Stephen Goudge, who heads the inquiry, must provide the Ontario government with recommendations to restore public confidence in the system and prevent future errors.

"The examination of individual cases is important only as it helps identify systemic failings that must be addressed if public confidence in pediatric forensic pathology is to be restored and enhanced," Goudge said in his opening remarks.

Commission lawyers explained that they have already interviewed 48 witnesses and reviewed hundreds of thousands of pages of material.

Smith said, in his statement, that pediatric forensic pathology is an "inexact science" that is constantly evolving.

"Unquestionably, what may have represented a consensus of professional opinion in the 1980s and 1990s may very well be viewed differently in 2007," he said.

He also told the inquiry that his experience points to an obvious problem with death investigations, an "informational disconnect" between coroners and pathologists.

"If we wish to ensure that the conclusions concerning death investigations are as accurate as possible, and the court is obtaining the optimal opinion evidence, the various arms of an investigation - the police, the coroner, the pathologist and the Crown prosecutor - must be integrated in a more co-ordinated fashion," Smith suggests.

Smith is expected to testify at the inquiry in late January, although he is still locked in a dispute with the commission, arguing he should be questioned first by his own lawyers.

If he's granted the right, he won't have to submit to an interview by commission staff before his public appearance. He has so far refused to submit to an interview.

Reynolds told the Whig-Standard, in an interview earlier this year, that she has no interest in appearing at the inquiry or addressing Smith.

"Our system is a joke to say the least," she said. "It puts innocent people in jail and lets the guilty go free."

The former chief coroner for Ontario, Dr. Barry McLellan, and Dr. Michael Pollanen, the province's chief forensic pathologist, were the first witnesses yesterday.

They spent the day explaining how the Chief Coroner's Office operates and how death investigations are handled.

rtripp@thewhig.com

I have to say as I investigated more on this case, it became even more horrifying than even first though. You will too as you read through more press releases.

Charles Smith and child deaths

This week, Dr. Charles Smith said he was sorry. Sorry for the "number of mistakes" he made in 20 child-death cases in which he was either the pathologist doing the autopsy or held the role of expert consultant. Sorry, presumably, that people went to jail as a result of his errors and that families were torn apart.

Oh, and sorry enough to have his lawyer stand in for him to deliver the message of apology at the opening of a public inquiry focused on his actions. Smith himself won't appear until January.

Along with his apology, the doctor also stressed that his mistakes were "made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations" in which they were made. He acted, according to his lawyer, to the best of his ability, trying to be objective and fair with each case he considered.

If this is so, it can only add to public alarm, for Charles Smith was once considered one of Canada's pre-eminent pediatric forensic experts. Yet he utterly botched several cases, including that of Kingstonian Louise Reynolds, who was accused, chiefly on the strength of Smith's conclusions, of murdering her daughter. He believed the little girl had been stabbed dozens of times, but other experts later concluded the child was mauled by a pit bull, a fate gruesome enough without the added obscenity of a misdiagnosis.

So if Smith couldn't get it right, what does this say about the overall system of dealing with suspicious deaths in general and child deaths in particular?

That's part of what Justice Stephen Goudge is supposed to determine in his inquiry. In fact, it's to take up most of his focus. The probe isn't meant to re-examine Smith's errors other than to see if they point to systemic failings.

Smith's team has been quick to emphasize this focus. Amid the mea culpas this week was a statement by the discredited doctor that there is an "informational disconnect" in the investigative system between coroners, pathologists, police and Crown attorneys. Starting, apparently, with Smith's inability to draw more accurate conclusions than he did.

Yesterday, the inquiry heard that Smith asked the chief coroner in 2001 to excuse him from performing autopsies - and that this did not happen. He mostly did not participate in "criminally suspicious" cases after that time, according to testimony from a former Ontario chief coroner. But he did handle one such case, which was later reviewed.

Why was Smith handling any cases when he himself felt he should not? Will this be judged part of the "disconnect" and "systemic" problems Justice Goudge must confront?

If poor information and communication is really a major problem, the probe will perhaps uncover other egregious examples of forensic pathology run amok, involving other doctors. Let us hope it does not. Let us hope that Smith was truly an anomaly.

Pathologist Regrets Errors in Evidence
By CHARMAINE NORONHA

TORONTO (AP) — A Canadian pathologist whose expert testimony led to wrongful convictions for several people accused of killing small children, including one man who spent a decade in jail, said Monday that he was "truly sorry" for his mistakes.

A public inquiry into the work of Dr. Charles Smith, once considered the country's leading pediatric pathologist, was read a statement in which he apologized for errors in analyzing 20 cases of child deaths. Twelve led to convictions, some of which have been thrown out by courts.
Smith did not appear as the government-appointed commission opened its inquiry, and his statement was read by his lawyer, Niels Ortved.

"Dr. Smith wishes to publicly acknowledge ... that in the 20 years that he performed autopsies at the direction of the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario, he made a number of mistakes for which he is truly sorry," Ortved said.

"In retrospect, he understands that in some 20 cases which form the basis of this inquiry, his work, while to the best of his ability at the time, was simply not good enough in certain circumstances."

Smith has not been charged with any crimes, and is not expected to testify before the inquiry until January. He stopped performing autopsies in 2001 after several cases in which he was involved fell apart amid questions about the quality of his work.

The commission has no authority to punish Smith or evaluate past convictions. It is reviewing Ontario's pediatric forensic system and will recommend changes in order to restore public confidence amid accusations that Smith repeatedly made errors that tore families apart.

Though Smith acknowledged he made mistakes, he claimed the errors were "made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations in which he was involved."

The probe was ordered by Ontario's provincial government seven months ago after an investigation of 45 child deaths involving autopsies or expert testimony from Smith found the pathologist made questionable findings in 20 cases dating back to 1991.

In one case, Smith's testimony played a key role in the conviction of a man who spent 12 years in jail for sexually assaulting and strangling his 4-year-old niece. Evidence later surfaced that showed the girl died of natural causes, and William Mullins-Johnson was exonerated last month.
Mullins-Johnson told CBC television that Smith's actions destroyed his life and that he hoped the pathologist will face criminal conviction.

In another case, a mother was charged with murder after Smith testified at a pretrial hearing that her daughter died of multiple stab wounds. A later autopsy found the girl was mauled by a pit bull. The mother, Louise Reynolds, spent two years in jail awaiting trial before she was exonerated.

Smith's testimony also led to the conviction of a mother who spent a year in prison for the 1996 death of her infant son. Sherry Sherrett is appealing her conviction for infanticide after another pathologist determined the boy died of natural causes. After Sherrett was charged, the province put one of her other children up for adoption.

Just last week, Canada's Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a couple convicted in the death of their infant son because Smith's testimony was discredited by new evidence from two other doctors.

Smith inquiry reveals details of 10 new cases

Discredited pathologist Dr. Charles Smith made questionable findings
Nov 14, 2007
Theresa Boyle staff reporter

Extensive details of 10 new cases in which discredited child pathologist Dr. Charles Smith made questionable findings were unveiled at a public inquiry yesterday.

Justice Stephen Goudge, who is heading the Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario, issued a publication ban on the names of some of the victims while others were replaced by pseudonyms.

Lawyers for individuals covered by the ban said the move was necessary to protect their clients from further hardship.

But the case files, some more than 100 pages long, reveal the details of the deaths of the 10 children – most of them infants; one almost 4-years-old.

In all of the cases yesterday, criminal charges were laid against one or both of the parents based on Smith's findings after autopsies on the victims.

The inquiry has chosen to deal with 18 of the 20 cases in which there were found to be problems. The 18 case histories released yesterday – including the 10 previously undisclosed – filled two large binders.

During testimony yesterday, the inquiry heard that senior officials in the province's chief coroner's office decided four years ago that the brakes had to be put on Smith.

"Decision by all present – he can't continue medical-legal post-mortems or committee work," state notes taken by Al O'Marra, then chief legal counsel to the office of the coroner.

He was referring to Smith, who was present at that October 2003 meeting along with then-chief coroner Jim Young, deputy coroner Jim Cairns, and acting chief coroner Barry McLellan.

The committee work referred to in O'Marra's notes were the Pediatric Death Review and Death Under Two committees. Smith sat on both.

O'Marra's notes were tabled yesterday as exhibits.

The province called for the inquiry after it was revealed that problems had been found in 20 child-death investigations in which Smith performed autopsies or rendered opinions. In 12 of those cases, individuals were convicted of crimes; in one, an individual was found not criminally responsible; and in seven, people were suspected or charged with crimes but not convicted.

O'Marra's notes from the high-level meeting indicate that Smith did not want to take responsibility for the problems.

"No insights into problems – deflects all criticism to failings of others," read the notes.

McLellan, who testified yesterday, revealed that there was some disagreement in the chief coroner's office on what to do about Smith. McLellan favoured a hard-line approach, but his boss at the time, Young, disagreed.

"We did not agree. ... Dr. Young was aware of my position. I certainly respected his position as chief coroner," McLellan said.

But when McLellan was promoted to the job of chief coroner in April 2004, he took immediate steps to remove Smith from the position of head of the Ontario Pediatric Forensic Unit, located at the Hospital for Sick Children.

"I met with Dr. Smith and I indicated that I felt he should not be continuing in that role," McLellan said.

The inquiry heard how Young had publicly stated that an internal review was necessary, after murder charges were dropped in the case of Louise Reynolds, who spent two years in jail for the death of her 7-year-old daughter. Smith had concluded the child was stabbed to death but a review by other pathologists determined she was mauled by a pit bull.

Commission counsel Linda Rothstein said evidence will be produced in the coming days showing that despite Young's call for an internal review at that time, the coroner "later determined that a review would not go ahead because of legal advice."

Smith himself had even asked his superiors to intervene after charges were withdrawn in the Reynolds case and in the case of a woman who had been charged with killing her 3-year-old stepson. Other pathologists had determined the boy died after a fall.

In a January 2001 letter to Young, Smith asked to be excused from the performance of medical-legal autopsies and that an external review be done of his work.

Concerns about Smith persisted as the number of questionable cases continued to mount, the inquiry heard.

"I personally had concerns about Dr. Smith's ongoing involvement with committees, with conducting autopsies and with being the director of the unit in the context of ongoing concerns about his work," said McLellan, who also noted that Smith had an ongoing problem with tardiness.

He said that in 2003, Cairns responded to the concerns by removing Smith from the committees that investigate child deaths.

"He was still at this time conducting autopsies on non-homicide and non-criminally suspicious cases and he was still director of the unit," McLellan noted, referring to the Hospital for Sick Children's forensic unit.

Smith's performance was eventually addressed by a forensic services advisory committee, which is expected to be further examined by the inquiry today.

The new cases

1. Baby F
Date: Born and died Nov. 28, 1996.

Case facts:
Baby F’s mother, a teenager, told police she had felt sick after coming home from school. After sitting on the toilet for 30 minutes, she saw a great deal of blood.
Under hypnosis, she recalled seeing a baby in the toilet covered in blood and water.
She put the baby, wrapped in a towel, in a plastic bag in her closet.
On July 6, 1998, she pleaded guilty to infanticide and was given a two-month “conditional sentence, to be served at home,” three years’ probation and 150 hours of community service.
A psychiatric assessment indicated that Baby F’s mother had been “consistent in denying that she knew about the pregnancy” and was suffering from “acute stress disorder.”

Smith’s finding:
The baby girl appeared to be full-term and survived “for a period of time” following delivery.
Death was caused by asphyxia, attributed to infanticide.

Outcome:
Baby F’s mother was granted a pardon on Oct. 24 last year.

2. Tamara

Date:
Born Jan. 18, 1998; died Feb. 8, 1999.

Case facts:
Tamara had no contact with her father until September 1998, after which her mother testified he came over three or four times a week and helped look after Tamara and her two sisters.
The Children’s Aid Society was notified after Tamara was treated at Sick Kids’ hospital on Jan. 20, 1999, for a broken thigh.
Tamara and one of her sisters were left in the care of Tamara’s father the morning of Feb. 8, her mother said.
She called several times but he didn’t answer.
He told police she was in her playpen with a bottle and he fell asleep.
Tamara’s mother testified that when she came home, Tamara was lying on her back with a scrape on her forehead and a bruise on her cheek and not breathing.
A radiology report found “multiple fractures in various stages of healing ... highly suspicious for nonaccidental trauma.”
The father was charged with second-degree murder.

Smith’s finding:
Cause of death was given as “asphyxia associated with multiple traumatic injuries.”

Outcome:
Tamara’s father pleaded guilty to manslaughter Aug. 30, 2001; he was sentenced to 15 months time served and 361/2 years prison.

3. Katharina

Date:
Born March 20, 1992; found dead Sept. 15, 1995.

Case facts:
Katharina’s father, Lawrence Babineau, and mother, Gabriela Chaparro-Najar, married in 1993 when the baby was 11 months old. The family lived in Oshawa until June 1994, when the parents split up and the mother moved with Katharina to her sister’s home in Toronto. A custody battle began with Chaparro-Najar alleging that Babineau had abused the child and Babineau claiming she had threatened to kill Katharina rather than let him have custody. Babineau told police he feared she would flee with the child to her native Colombia. Police forced entry into the apartment. They found Katharina’s body in the bedroom and Chaparro-Najar climbing over the balcony. She was charged with murder.

Smith’s finding:
Death was caused by “asphyxia in a pattern of neck or chest compression,” consistent with having been suffocated with a pillow. The exact time of death, he said, was uncertain.

Outcome:
On Nov. 3, 1997, Katharina’s mother was found not criminally responsible. She was detained at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health until April 2001. She received an absolute discharge on Dec. 13, 2001.

4 .Taylor

Date:
Born April 16, 1996, in Thunder Bay; found dead July 31, 1996.

Case facts:
Taylor’s parents, Lanny and Laura, were charged with second-degree murder, criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide necessities of life. The couple had had an argument, after Taylor had been put to bed, and Laura left the apartment carrying her son from a previous relationship. Lanny followed her and the couple were seen arguing and crying before the three returned home. Lanny reported he fell asleep on the couch and was woken by Laura’s screams. An autopsy revealed several broken ribs and a brain injury. Cause of death was given as acute head injury. There was information that Larry had abused a child he had with another woman.

Smith’s finding:
Noting that the original radiologist’s report observed two or three fractures, Smith said a review of evidence indicated a total of 14 fractures and other possible injuries. He said the cause of death was consistent with “blunt trauma,” not shaking.

Outcome:
Lanny and Laura were discharged on all counts because “there was no evidence of motive, intent or exclusive opportunity to cause the injury that resulted in Taylor’s death.”

5. Tyrell

Date:
Born Feb. 1, 1994; died Jan. 23, 1998.

Case facts:
Tyrell’s father, Garth, was in jail for manslaughter and the whereabouts of his mother, Janette, unknown.
He lived with Garth’s former partner, Maureen, and her two children.
Medical reports said Maureen said Tyrell had been running around, jumped off a couch and fell, hitting his head. He was taken to hospital Jan. 19, 1998, after she couldn’t wake him.
He was transferred to the Hospital for Sick Children, where he died. Cause of death was recorded as “herniation of brain stem ..... consistent with a severe shaking episode.”
Maureen’s son told police she hit Tyrell “a lot.”
Maureen was charged with second-degree murder.

Smith’s finding:
Smith reportedly told police that the head injury was caused “by flat object — impact.” He testified that Tyrell did not show signs of “classic shaking” but couldn’t rule out the possibility. Smith noted a contusion or discolouration to the brain that was noted by another examiner, who disagreed with his opinion that “a household fall can result in death only when there is epidural hemorrhaging.”

Outcome: The charge against Maureen was withdrawn Jan. 22, 2001.

6. Dustin

Date:
Born Sept. 9, 1992; died Nov. 18, 1992.

Case facts:
Dustin lived in Belleville with his parents Mary and Richard.
After an argument, Mary spent the night at a friend’s home, leaving Dustin with Richard. When she returned, there was another violent quarrel and Richard left, taking Dustin and Mary’s daughter, who was not his biological child. Richard was later seen pushing a baby carriage. Dustin was in it, a witness said, “with foam (coming) out of his nose. He was white and his eyelids were blue.”
The witness told police Richard shook Dustin, but not violently.
A hospital radiologist reported injuries “strongly suggestive of a shaken baby.”
Cause of death was given as respiratory failure and a traumatic brain injury.

Smith’s finding:
Smith commented in his report that “In the absence of a credible explanation, this injury must be regarded as non-accidental in nature.”
In testimony, he said, “Though I would prefer the explanation that it was a shaking-type injury, I cannot rule out the possibility that, in fact, he was stuck by some blunt object.”

Outcome:
On April 21, 1995, Richard pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was jailed six months.

7. Gaurov

Date:
Born Feb. 11, 1992; died March 20, 1992.

Case facts:
On March 18, the mother of a 5-week-old boy called 911 and said he had stopped breathing. According to the father, he had been fed at 12:30 a.m. A half-hour later the father heard the baby cry and picked him up. He took several breaths, gasped, turned blue and went limp.
The father tried to resuscitate him. Emergency services and Gaurov’s aunt and uncle arrived. The aunt shook him a couple of times to try to revive him.
He was rushed to hospital with no heartbeat and not breathing. He was intubated and his heartbeat restored.
After tests, he was transferred to the Hospital for Sick Children. A CT scan found brain hemorrhaging consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
On March 20 baby Gaurov died.

Smith’s finding:
Smith listed cause of death as “head injury.”
In his autopsy report he stated the baby had acute epidural hemorrhaging of the spinal cord and acute subdural hemorrhaging.

Outcome:
Gaurov’s father was charged with second-degree murder on July 1, 1992. On Dec. 3, 1992, he pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death and was sentenced to 90 days.

8. Delaney

Date:
Born Dec. 20, 1992; died May 23, 1993.

Case facts:
Five-month-old Delaney lived with his mother, Olga Policarpo, in Woodstock, Ont.
On the day before his death his mother had invited her relatives to her house to pray for help for her 2-year-old niece, who had liver and heart problems.
Relatives later said they communicated with the Virgin Mary. Delaney was found dead the next day.
Policarpo was arrested and taken to hospital, where doctors assessed her as being in a psychotic state.

Smith’s finding:
The cause of death was listed as “asphyxia.”
Smith told police the baby’s death was caused by compression or blunt trauma injury and there was evidence of hemorrhaging in the upper chest and lower neck.
In a request for a skeletal survey of Delaney, he wrote: “Sudden death of baby while family was involved in cult-like activities.”

Outcome:
Policarpo was charged with second-degree murder.
While in hospital she told Susan Garton, a nurse at London Psychiatric Hospital, that the Lady of Guadeloupe “made me kill my baby.”
She was found not guilty of second-degree murder but was convicted of infanticide.

9. Amber

Date:
Born March 13, 1987; died July 30, 1988.

Case facts:
Amber was born in Timmins, Ont.
Her parents, Francis and Richard, left her in the care of S.M., a 12-year-old babysitter, on July 28, 1988.
During the day the toddler fell down five stairs, the sitter said. Paramedics found the baby with no visible injuries and breathing irregularly.
On July 30, 1988, she was pronounced brain dead. The cause of death was listed by the coroner as “cerebral edema due to head injury after an accidental fall.”
An autopsy was requested due to “a high level of suspicion of foul play.”

Smith’s finding:
Smith testified he believed Amber had been shaken to death. He told police there was no way the fall could have killed her.
The final autopsy report was signed on Nov. 28, 1988, but Smith only cited a “head injury.”

Outcome:
S.M. was charged with manslaughter on Dec. 15, 1988. She was acquitted on July 25, 1991. Smith testified Amber’s injuries “don’t fit those from a fall down stairs.”
The judge ruled shaking wasn’t established to his satisfaction. S.M.’s father laid a complaint against Smith at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which ruled Smith’s approach was acceptable.

10. Kenneth

Date:
Born May 18, 1991; died Oct. 12, 1993.

Case facts:
At the time of his death, the almost 2-1/2-year-old lived with his mother and stepfather, Rick, in Oshawa, Ont.
Kenneth’s mother was still in high school in Scarborough when the baby was born.
She came from “an abusive and dysfunctional family” and had problems with alcohol abuse and parenting.
Kenneth had been in Children’s Aid Society care four times.
He had repeated trips to the hospital for seizures, asthma, bumps, bruises and a broken leg.
On Oct. 9, after an afternoon nap, Kenneth’s mother woke to find him twisted in his sheets and blankets and unable to breathe. She got him out and called 911.
Paramedics found Kenneth without any vital signs. On Oct. 11 he was termed clinically dead.

Smith’s finding:
In his post-mortem report Smith said the cause of death was asphyxia. He testified his findings from the autopsy were consistent with suffocation with a soft object or a plastic bag.

Outcome:
Kenneth’s mother was convicted of second-degree murder in October 1995 and sentenced to life. While awaiting trial she gave birth to a son, which the CAS took away.

The known cases

Lianne Thibeault: Smith suggested Thibeault was responsible for the death of her 11-month-old son before another pathologist concluded the cause was undetermined.

Brenda Waudby: Because of Smith’s findings, that Waudby’s 21-month-old baby died of abdominal trauma that occurred hours, even days, before her death, Waudby was wrongfully charged. A babysitter later admitted beating the baby shortly before she died.

Anisa and Marco Trotta: After Smith’s pathology reports on the death of their baby were deemed unreliable, the couple, who already spent time in jail, were granted a new trial by the Supreme Court.

Louise Reynolds: After Smith concluded that her 7-year-old daughter’s injuries were consistent with stab wounds, Reynolds was charged with the death. It was later determined that her daughter was killed by a dog.

William Mullins-Johnson: Smith consulted on the case of Mullins-Johnson’s 4-year-old niece, determining she was strangled. After Mullins-Johnson spent 12 years in jail, Smith’s testimony was reviewed and he was acquitted last month.

Angela Veno and Anthony Kporwodu: Smith was criticized for “inexplicable tardiness” in filing reports after the couple was charged with killing their baby — charges later thrown out. Smith was cited for unwillingness to provide crucial evidence in other cases as well.

Sherry Sherrett: Based on Smith’s findings, Sherrett spent six months in jail for the death of her 4-month-old. Another pathologist later determined the baby died of natural causes.

Victims unmoved by Smith's apology
Nov 13, 2007
Theresa Boyle Staff Reporter

An apology by Dr. Charles Smith is "cold comfort" to those whose lives were turned upside down by his mistakes, says a lawyer representing a man jailed for murdering his son, largely based on the testimony of the discredited pathologist.

"While the apology is a nice initial first step, there's a huge amount of harm that's been done. ... Every mistake, every case blows apart families. You have the wrongly convicted, you have wrongly charged, you have family members who don't talk to each other, they don't heal, they don't come back together again," Michael Lomer told reporters yesterday, the first day of public hearings at the Inquiry into Forensic Pediatric Pathology in Ontario.

"I sort of suspect it's cold comfort late in the game," added the lawyer for Marco Trotta.

Last week, Trotta and his wife Anisa were granted a new trial by the Supreme Court of Canada because of questionable findings by Smith in the investigation of the 1993 death of son Paulo.

The apology was Smith's first public statement since an investigation by the provincial coroner's office five months ago indicated he erred in 20 cases. The commission will examine 18, of which eight are described elsewhere on this page.

A publication ban was issued on the other 10 that will be lifted as each case comes before the inquiry.

Trotta, 38, has served nine years of a life sentence after his conviction for second-degree murder and assault. He had pleaded not guilty.

His wife, Anisa, 33, completed a five-year sentence on convictions for criminal negligence and failing to provide the necessities of life. She was acquitted at their joint trial on a manslaughter charge.

Through his own lawyer yesterday, Smith apologized for making a "number of mistakes," but did not specify to which cases he was referring. "Dr. Smith sincerely regrets these mistakes and apologizes to all who may have been affected by his errors," Niels Ortved said in opening remarks to the inquiry.

Smith was not present and is not scheduled to testify until January.

Noting that his client "is truly sorry" for his mistakes, Ortved said there was no malice behind them. "At all times, Dr. Smith endeavoured to use whatever knowledge and expertise he possessed to render accurate pathologic opinions."

In 12 of the 20 Smith cases red-flagged by the province, parents and relatives were criminally convicted for the deaths of children. In one case, an individual was found not criminally responsible. And in the rest, parents and relatives were considered suspects and some were charged, but not convicted.

One person has since been acquitted after spending 12 years in jail, while some others are seeking vindication through the courts.

William Mullins-Johnson was wrongly convicted in 1994 of murdering his niece, Valin, 4, partly on the basis of Smith's testimony.

Asked what he thought of yesterday's apology, Mullins-Johnson replied: "Not much at all."
"I don't put much stock in it," Mullins-Johnson, who spent 12 years in prison, said in an interview last night. "First of all, he didn't have the guts to do it himself."

In terms of content, it also seemed deficient, he said. "To say he just made mistakes? C'mon. It seemed more like a forced apology than genuine," Mullins-Johnson said.

Maurice Gagnon had much the same reaction. His daughter, Lianne Thibeault, became a murder suspect in 1995 after Smith began probing the sudden death of her infant son, Nicolas. What Smith labelled as suspicious marks around the child's jaw line was actually normal post-mortem pooling of blood.

"For one thing, it wasn't Smith who apologized, it was the lawyers," Gagnon said in an interview from Sudbury, where he resides. "These lawyers representing Smith are also representing the (doctor's) insurance company that is going to get bombarded with lawsuits (from affected families)."

One of the cases involved Brenda Waudby, who was charged with the 1997 murder of her 21-month-old daughter. Smith worked on the investigation and his opinion contributed to the charge being laid. But two years later, the charge was withdrawn after five experts took issues with his findings. The child's 14-year-old babysitter was subsequently convicted of manslaughter.

Waudby was the only individual touched by Smith's errors to show up on the first day of hearings. She declined to talk to reporters.

Justice Stephen Goudge, who heads the inquiry, pointed out that it is not a civil or criminal trial, but intended to help formulate recommendations to improve the system.

Among the cases to be examined by the inquiry:

Sharon Reynolds, 7, of Kingston. Her mother, Louise, was charged with killing the girl in 1997 and spent almost two years behind bars. Smith had concluded the child had been stabbed to death, but the charges were withdrawn after other pathologists determined she had been attacked by a pit bull.

Joshua Sherrett-Robinson, 4 months, of Trenton, found dead in his playpen in 1996. His mother, Sherry Sherrett, was charged with infanticide and spent six months behind bars. Another pathologist found Joshua died of natural causes. After Sherrett was charged, another child was taken from her.

Athena Kporwodu, 3 months, of Toronto, who died in 1998 after sustaining 35 rib fractures, a torn liver and bruises to the head. Her parents, Anthony Kporwodu and Angela Veno, were charged with the child's death. But the Ontario Court of Appeal threw out charges in 2005 on grounds of excessive delay.

Tyrell, 3, of Toronto, who died in 1998. His stepmother, Maureen, was charged with murder based on Smith's opinion. But the charge was stayed on eve of trial in 2001 after three pathologists concluded the injury was likely caused by falling.

Once-noted Canadian pathologist acknowledges mistakes in several child death cases
The Associated Press
Published: November 12, 2007

TORONTO: A Canadian pathologist whose expert testimony led to wrongful convictions for several people accused of killing small children, including one man who spent a decade in jail, said that he was "truly sorry" for his mistakes.

A public inquiry into the work of Dr. Charles Smith, once considered the country's leading pediatric pathologist, was read a statement in which he apologized for errors in analyzing 20 cases of child deaths. Twelve led to convictions, some of which have been thrown out by courts.
Smith did not appear Monday as the government-appointed commission opened its inquiry aimed at revamping pediatric forensics standards in light of Smith's alleged mistakes, and his statement was read by his lawyer, Niels Ortved.

"Dr. Smith wishes to publicly acknowledge ... that in the 20 years that he performed autopsies at the direction of the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario, he made a number of mistakes for which he is truly sorry," Ortved told the panel of medical, scientific and legal experts.

"In retrospect, he understands that in some 20 cases which form the basis of this inquiry, his work — while to the best of his ability at the time — was simply not good enough in certain circumstances," the statement read.

Smith has not been charged with any crimes, and is not expected to testify before the inquiry until January.

Though Smith acknowledged he made mistakes, he claimed the errors were "made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations in which he was involved."

Smith stopped performing autopsies in 2001 after several cases in which he was involved fell apart amid questions about the quality of his work. This helped lead to the provincial investigation that ultimately paved the way for the public inquiry.

In one case, Smith's testimony played a key role in the conviction of a man who spent 12 years in jail for sexually assaulting and strangling his 4-year-old niece. Evidence later surfaced that showed the girl died of natural causes and William Mullins-Johnson was exonerated last month.
Mullins-Johnson told CBC TV he hoped the inquiry would eventually lead to a criminal conviction for Smith. He said it destroyed his life.

In another case, his testimony helped put a woman in prison for two years for her daughter's 1997 death. Smith said the girl died of multiple stab wounds but a later autopsy found the girl had been mauled by a pit bull. The woman, Louise Reynolds, has since been exonerated.

Smith's testimony also led to the conviction of a mother who spent a year in prison for the 1996 death of her infant son.

Sherry Sherrett has since appealed her conviction for infanticide after another pathologist determined her son died of natural causes. After Sherrett was charged, the province put one of her other children up for adoption.

Canada's Supreme Court last week also ordered a new trial for a couple convicted in the death of their infant son because Smith's testimony was discredited by new evidence from two other doctors.

The father, Marco Trotta, has served nine years of his life sentence for murder and was released on bail last May, and his wife Annisa has completed her five-year sentence.

Michael Lower, a lawyer for the couple, said Smith's apology was a "nice first step" but it does not undo the harm caused by those errors.

"Every mistake blows apart families. You have the wrongfully convicted, the wrongfully charged. You have family members that don't talk to each other," Lomer said.

Smith's inquiry is expected to take about three months.

2 comments:

Marjorie said...

It's hard to say what really happened, with any certainty, at this point.

The fact that this is the very first time a pit bull has been attributed with an unprovoked human fatality in Canadian history is certainly a big problem for those who blame the dog. Funny how it's this one case, and only this case. Hmmmmm...

When the story of a Dachshund mutilating a child's genitals made the rounds recently, I pointed out that a strangely similar story happened in May of this year. Turns out, though, the mother had mutilated the child and then blamed it on the dog.

Coincidence?

There are similar concerns about the first ever recorded case of a child sexually assaulted by a dog; also reportedly a pit bull. Yet most of the people involved with thr case believe the child was sodomized by a (human) pedophile, and the dog is being blamed...again, by the child's mother.

It's funny how these pit bulls are being accused of the first ever incidents of their kinds. I think any intelligent person would look to Ockham's razor: "lex parsimoniae" - the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. In short, all things being equal, the simplest solution is usually the correct one.

Coming up with never before heard of events wouldn't be my first guess.

Conners said...

As I followed up on this story and saw it wasn't so much about a 'Pit bull' but by the horrendous errors of the Chief Cornoner.
The fact remains though that had it been any other breed, they would have used the word 'dog' rather than Pit bull.
Infants and young children were murdered and Smith point's fingers at parents and of course an attory saying 'sorry' isn't going to right the wrong done. I didn't realize the latitude of this story when I first posted the first press release I came upon.
They took only one of the cases and blamed it on a Pit bull and that's what I felt was another blow towards the breeds.