Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Profoundly ignorant of justice system, discredited pathologist admits

This article speaks for itself, but I' would have titled it as, 'Blind (lieing) Justice'.

'Profoundly ignorant' of justice system, discredited pathologist admits

TORONTO - A once renowned pathologist whose child death investigations helped put innocent parents behind bars answered to his tarnished legacy Monday, taking "full responsibility" for his flawed work but also lashing out at a profession he says left him poorly trained and "profoundly ignorant" of the criminal justice system.

In quiet, measured tones, a bespectacled Dr. Charles Smith submitted to a public inquiry probing 20 cases of his cases that have been called into question by a panel of experts.

His first day of testimony came complete with apologies for many of those affected by his work - some of whom were sitting just metres away from Smith in the spectator's gallery - and insights into what drove the man once considered the dean of his profession.

"In the very beginning, when I went to court on the few occasion in the 1980s, I honestly believed it was my role to support the Crown attorney," Smith told the inquiry.

"I was there to make a case look good. That's the way I felt."

Smith testified that it took him years to learn that his proper role wasn't to support the prosecution but to be "much more impartial."

"I thought I knew (my role) but I realize now just how profoundly ignorant I was."

The now-disgraced pathologist laid the blame for that ignorance on forensic pathology training and practice in the 1970s and 80s that he said was a far cry from what it ought to have been.

"It was self-taught, it was minimal, and retrospectively I realize it was woefully inadequate," he said.

At the outset of his testimony, Smith said he has "come to appreciate mistakes that I made and I am sorry for them."

"I also recognize that at times my conduct was not professional and I deeply regret that."

Among those whose lives were torn apart by those mistakes are several mothers who were jailed for years until the cases against them fell apart, and a man who was finally exonerated after spending more than a decade in prison for the death of his niece.

Another couple, convicted of murdering their son, have had their convictions quashed and face new trials ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada.

When asked by lead commission counsel if he was too emotionally attached to some of his cases, Smith replied: "Now that I think back on it, I would have opened the door on that possibility a crack."

Emotional attachment, Smith added, is one of the pitfalls of the pediatric forensic profession.

In 2005, Smith was quoted in a newspaper report as saying he "had a thing" against people who hurt children.

"That's not a good statement, but I think in my heart of hearts that's how I feel," Smith told the inquiry.

"It looks like I'm biased in my approach. . . an advocate against some family member, so I'm a little bit embarrassed (by that comment)."

As his lawyer took him case-by-case through his questionable conclusions, Smith admitted making errors while, in many cases, defending his findings as being consistent with medical knowledge that was available at the time.

Smith conceded his testimony in several cases was too "adversarial" and too often took a "black and white" approach to presenting pathology evidence that was not clear-cut.

He apologized directly to several of the people who were either wrongfully accused or convicted.

"I did give an opinion and I testified in the court and therefore I believe I contributed to a miscarriage of justice," Smith said of the case of William Mullins-Johnson, who spent more than a decade in prison after he was convicted in the death of his four-year-old niece.

"I'm sorry and I do apologize," he said, a refrain he repeated many times as each case was examined for the inquiry.

Mullins-Johnson said he didn't put much stock in Smith's words.

"It doesn't make much difference to my life," he said outside the inquiry. "I knew I did nothing to my niece and deep down, at the time, they even knew. The damage is done."

Sherry Sherret, convicted of infanticide in the 1996 death of her four-year-old son, largely on the strength of Smith's conclusions, said she had mixed feelings about whether Smith should face criminal sanctions for his actions.

"I've struggled to answer that. Yes and no. Just because he doesn't know what it's like to be locked up. ... You get called names, your life is threatened when you're away, and nothing can ever change that," she said.

"So maybe a little of that for him to feel. But in the long run, it's not 100 per cent his fault because obviously somebody wasn't watching him."

Sherret, of Belleville, Ont., was handed a one-year jail term of which she served eight months.

Her case is now before the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In the case of Brenda Waudby of Peterborough, Ont., her 21-month-old daughter was found dead in 1997 with a pubic hair in her groin area. Smith later testified that he knew nothing about a hair. Five years after murder charges against Waudby had been withdrawn, he found the hair in his desk drawer.

Ultimately, the child's babysitter admitted to killing the child.

"My handling of the hair was not what it should have been," Smith testified Monday.

"I'm sorry for that. I realize that those actions were not helpful. I realize that they served only to perhaps confuse the investigation."

Smith agreed that, in the mid-1980s, there was a concern that child abuse was under-reported, often missed by health professionals and not prosecuted often enough.

"Child abuse issues were only becoming public (then)," Smith said, adding there was an advocacy culture surrounding such issues.

"It was almost wanting to educate, bring attention to this."

Despite his contrition, Smith told the inquiry he felt a coroner's review of his cases was unfair because it didn't examine the work of other pathologists, or even the police.

"I was unfairly singled out," Smith said.

The reviewing experts also had access to medical records and witness statements that he didn't have at the time, and failed to take into account how the science of pathology has evolved since he worked on those cases, he added.

Smith laid out his evidence in a 120-page document filed with the inquiry that details his education and experience as a pathologist. The statement also lays out in detail his work in the 20 cases in which experts questioned his conclusions.

In the statement, Smith disputes the "characterization" that he made "significant" errors in those cases.

The review of his work by the coroner's office "stressed that the concerns raised by the reviewers in the 20 cases 'ranged from relatively minor to potentially more serious issues,' " the statement reads.

"Dr. Smith believes that the testimony to date supports the original characterization and faults the (coroner's office) ... for allowing this misperception to continue."

Discredited pathologist Dr. Charles Smith began a week's worth of testimony Monday at a public inquiry into pediatric forensic pathology that's probing some of his work.

Some quotes:

"I think I was unfairly singled out." - Smith on the review of 45 cases he handled.

"I'm not by talent or gift a leader. I'm certainly not an organized person and I think more could have been done." - Smith on his role in the "disconnect" between the Office of the Chief Coroner, chief forensic pathologist and the forensic pathology unit at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.

"I think that's grossly erroneous." - Smith on being characterized in the media as a person who saw abuse in every child death.

"I'm deeply contrite." - Smith on charges against two people in the death of three-month-old Athena being thrown out because of excessive delay.

"I have no one to blame but myself. I think that is an expression of my disorganization and untidiness and perhaps also an expression of the fact that I wasn't fully attuned to the importance or the procedures related to things like continuity of evidence." - Smith on failing to keep track of evidence from cases he worked on.

"I believe I was too defensive or dogmatic or adversarial. And I was certainly too concrete. I don't believe that I clearly communicated my own uncertainty, but rather I think I communicated the certainty of others. I confess, I think I was misguided in what I was doing." - Smith on his testimony at a preliminary inquiry in the case of Louise Reynolds, charged in 1997 with killing her seven-year-old daughter, Sharon. Subsequent experts concluded the girl's wounds were consistent with dog bites.

"I realize that my mistakes, my diagnostic error in my testimony in court were not helpful. I recognize that created problems for the investigators and for the judicial system. And more importantly, for Sharon's mom, and for that, I am truly sorry." - Smith on his work in the Reynolds case.

"Though I did not do the first autopsy on Valin, I did give an opinion and I testified in court, and therefore, I believe I contributed to a miscarriage of justice. And to whatever degree the jury may have considered my opinion in their decision, I'm sorry and I do apologize to Mr. Mullins." - Smith on his conduct in the Valin case, which resulted in William Mullins-Johnson spending 12 years in jail for sodomizing and killing his niece.

"I believed at the time it was true. ... I believe that I heard what I wanted to hear, as opposed to what he actually said." - Smith on alleging Justice Patrick Dunn told him that a 12-year-old babysitter acquitted of killing a child in her care was in fact guilty.

"He made an attack on my life. He put me in an environment where I could have been killed any day - any day - based on lies. So I don't hold much stock in apologies from him." - William Mullins-Johnson, speaking outside the hearing, on Smith's apology.

"I've struggled to answer that. Yes and no. Just because he doesn't know what it's like to be locked up. ... You get called names, your life is threatened when you're away, and nothing can ever change that. So maybe a little of that for him to feel. But in the long run, it's not 100 per cent his fault because obviously somebody wasn't watching him." - Sherry Sherret, convicted of infanticide in the 1996 death of her four-year-old son, about whether she wants to see Smith punished.

Some prominent criminal cases in which pathologist Dr. Charles Smith played a key role:

Some prominent criminal cases in which pathologist Dr. Charles Smith played a key role that have been examined by the public inquiry into pediatric forensic pathology:

William Mullins-Johnson: Convicted of first-degree murder of niece Valin, 4, in 1993. Smith testified she was anally raped and suffocated. Conviction quashed after he spent 12 years in jail when other experts found no such evidence and concluded she died of natural causes.

Louise Reynolds: Charged with killing her daughter Sharon, 7, in 1997. Smith concluded she had been stabbed 80 times with a scissors. Charge withdrawn after other pathologists concluded the girl was mauled by a dog, although some experts don't believe all the wounds can be explained as dog bites.

Brenda Waudby: Peterborough, Ont., woman charged with beating daughter Jenna, 2, to death in 1997 on Smith's opinion about time of injuries. Second-degree murder charge dropped after other experts said injuries were inflicted on evening of death, when she was in the care of a 14-year-old boy, later convicted of manslaughter. Waudby maintains Smith kept a hair from the autopsy, found five years after the charges against her were withdrawn, in a drawer.

Lianne Thibeault: Investigated for manslaughter of 11-month-old son Nicholas in 1995, who bumped his head and stopped breathing. Smith concluded death was deliberate and had body exhumed. Another pathologist later decided death was an "unexplained" tragedy.

Maureen: Charged with killing Tyrell, 3, in 1998 after Smith provided an opinion on head injury. Tyrell's caregiver said the boy had banged his head on a table after jumping from a couch. Charge stayed on eve of trial in 2001 after three pathologists concluded injury likely caused by falling on a table.

Angela Veno and Anthony Kporwodu: Charged with killing Athena, 3 months, who sustained 35 rib fractures, a torn liver and bruises to the head. Ontario Court of Appeal threw out charges on grounds of excessive delay - Smith criticized for "inexplicable tardiness."

Marco and Anisa Trotta: Convicted of killing eight-month-old baby Paulo in 1993 after Smith testified about skull fracture. Supreme Court ordered new trial based on suspect pathology. He spent nine years in jail before winning bail; she served five-year term.

S.M.: A 12-year-old babysitter who was charged in the death of 16-month-old Amber of Timmins, Ont. Smith concluded the child had died in 1988 from brain injuries caused by severe shaking, although S.M. maintained Amber had fallen down a flight of stairs. S.M. was acquitted in 1991 by Justice Patrick Dunn, who issued a scathing criticism of Smith's work.

Did a Pit Bull or a Person Cause this Child's Death

Not enough, but it's becoming more in the open that peoples eyes are finally seeing things as they are, rather what is assumed.

With the Pit bull frenzie, it was easy to blame the dogs, especially in the name of murder. You've heard me say often that there were too many questions, that by simply blaming the dog just didn't make sense.

Well, here's a turn around. It might have taken all this time, but the truth is finally starting to come out at the expense of the girl and the dog.

Did a Pit Bull or a Person Cause this Child's Death
Editor: Greg Owen
Firm: Owen, Patterson & Owen
January 29, 2008
By Greg Owen

Category: Wrongful Death
Sharon, a seven-year-old Kingston girl, was found dead in the basement of her family home a decade ago. She had suffered more than 80 wounds and part of her scalp was torn from her head. Eventually, the child bled to death.The cause Sharon's death is what has experts and police alike at raising questions.

The cause of death given by the family of the victim was a pit bull attack. However, one of Ontario's top forensic expert, Dr. Robert Wood, is not buying it. He still believes that a dog attack is not the only explanation for the death. Yesterday, he gave testimony rejecting the opinions of other experts who concluded that the dog attack caused all of Sharon's injures and indeed her death.

Both Woods and the police are much more inclined to believe that some of the 80 wounds on the child were stab wounds. Particularly a wound to her neck. "I would like someone to explain to me ... how that could be made by a dog's tooth," said Woods. It is interesting to note that a man by the name of Gordon Strowbridge, was in the house at the time Sharon died and he was convicted of a brutal stabbing murder in Nova Scotia after Sharon's death.

Councillor sides with death row dog

This is good news when a councillor comes to the defense of an innocent dog.

With so much news of the man who had sold rapid puppies at flea markets, it's only natural that they are checking on all animals sold through the flea markets.

Many people have had to start rabies shots with those that allowed the puppies to nibble their fingers or allowed the pups to lick them. Those that were only viewing the pups were not at risk.

Still, their cautionary measures has nothing to do with Rambo that was bought as a Bulldog cross and because they look similar to an American Pit bull Terrier, does not make it so.

The papers she received stated the dog as a Bull dog cross and not a Pit bull.

I give this Councillor the thumbs up for coming forward and siding with the dog.

Councillor sides with death row dog

Rambo who awaits his fate at Mississauga's Animal Control shelter while his owner fights to save his life.
John Stewart

January 29, 2008 02:23 PM - Ward 6 councillor Carolyn Parrish has gone to the dogs — at least, to one dog.

As Gabriela Nowakowska met today with the lawyer who will try to prove her seized dog, Rambo, is not a pitbull, Parrish vowed the 20-year-old Mississaugan will eventually get her dog back.

"We're going to win this one," a confident Ward 6 Councillor Carolyn Parrish told The News.

"She is going to keep this dog."

Parrish has come to the assistance of Nowakowska, who intends to go to court to dispute the City's contention that Rambo, a 10-month old dog identified as a Texas red nose pitbull by animal control officials, should be destroyed under Provincial legislation.

The Ontario government passed legislation in 2005 to force already-owned pitbulls to be muzzled in public and to prohibit several specified breeds born after Nov. 30, 2005 in the province.

If Nowakowska loses her case, her dog could be euthanized.

"The more I look into this law, the more foolish (I think) it is," said Parrish, a former member of parliament who admits she supported the dog control law at one time.

"It's not based on facts, science or common sense," she said.

Parrish said she supports the euthanasia of dogs who are clearly dangerous or who attack children.

Given the imprecise definitions of a pitbull (which is not a specific breed) in the Act and the fact that parts of the definition have been struck down and are still under appeal, Parrish said, she believes Rambo can be proven not to be a pitbull and is not dangerous.

Nowakowska bought the pup at a flea market and gave animal control officials the documentation she received from the vendor, which indicated the dog was some kind of bulldog cross. He was caught running loose near her home Christmas Day.

Ward 1 Councillor Carmen Corbasson and Parrish, alarmed by a story this week about a rabies scare with dogs sold at Dr. Flea's flea market at Hwy. 27 and Albion Rd. in Etobicoke, have asked the City's legal department to look into regulating the sale of animals at flea markets.

The City is investigating controlling the sale of turtles, dogs, snakes, etc., by, among other avenues, expanding the definition of a pet shop to cover flea markets.

"We can at least prevent this from happening again," said Parrish, adding a proposal will be made to Council soon.

Meanwhile Nowakowksa, who works part-time in a restaurant and a retail store, is preparing for her first court appearance Feb. 29 in Mississauga.

"I'm really grateful and I want to thank everyone for their support," said Nowakowksa, who hired her lawyer through contributions sent to a bank account she established to help pay for Rambo's defence. "I really appreciate the support I'm getting to try to save his life."

The east Mississauga resident is having a tough time adjusting to life without her pup, who is confined most of the day to a cage in the City's animal control centre.

"It's very lonely and sad," she said. "There's no one there to comfort you."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Reclusive coyotes adapt to city life

It's not surprising that here in London and other areas with all our conservation's and woodlands within the city. The over population of deer that has year after year become more densely populated that they brave their safe havens for crossing busy streets and eating from neighbours yards and making pests of themselves as well as a safety hazard.

Nature has a way of couping with problems that man can't and although the city has taken drastic measures, it definitely wasn't enough or the proper route.

We have had several different kinds of sightings that are very unnatural for us to see here. We've had the cougar warnings to a mix of wolf-dog. The conservation department says these dogs are much more vicious than a wolf themselves and their prey are your pets.

While shy of humans, owners of pets have gotten harmed by trying to protect their pets and these animals are bold because a leashed dog with a human is just as tempting to them as much as a pet alone.

They are saying that smaller pets are at higher risk, but although I'm not near a wooded area myself, I watch carefully when Shasta and I go out at night. She'd be completely defenseless with her muzzle on more so than a small pet.

This is an article from the London Free Press about the cougars.

Reclusive coyotes adapt to city life

They're stealthy, secretive and, yes, wily.

They're coyotes, and their numbers in London are likely growing, with reported sighting on the rise as the dog-sized animal adapts to city life.

Anyone who sees the reclusive creature should consider it more a bonus than a bane, says one London naturalist.

And a local mammalogist who specializes in coyotes says in a city setting they are more pest control than pest.

But coyotes are also carnivores with sharp teeth.

And while not considered a threat to humans, people living near wooded areas they inhabit, such as the Westminster Ponds, are urged not to leave meat lying around outside and to keep an eye -- and a short leash -- on small pets.

"Don't turn them loose at night because that's prime when (pets) are going to run into problems with them," Jack Miller, a biology professor at the University of Western Ontario, said yesterday.

Steve Sauder of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority said his group has received several reports lately of coyote sightings in London.

People are often surprised by that, he said, but "we do have wildlife in the city."

The authority will lead a meeting tomorrow to update the Westminster Ponds/Pond Mills Master Plan, particularly about improvements to its trails and entrances.

It's one of the city's largest environmentally sensitive oases, with 300 hectares of woodlot, ponds and meadows.

Sauder expects to hear some buzz there, too, about coyotes.

Callers have reported some sightings and "hearing some (coyote) calls at night . . . What we need to monitor beyond that is, are these actually creating a problem?"

If there are concerns coyotes are encroaching onto private property, or are a threat to people or leashed pets, "then we'll have to address those," Sauder said.

Coyotes, once a western phenomenon, have become more citified, said Millar, a mammalogist who has researched coyote populations.

"They're sort of following the steps of the raccoon and they've learned to adapt to city conditions," he says. "I think it's a trend" that they're starting to like city life.

Urban coyotes, for example, have learned to be quieter than country counterparts.

He said the animals, usually smaller than a medium-sized dogs, are solitary hunters that don't travel in packs.

They prefer to avoid human contact, but there have been some reports of small pets attacked or disappearing, the blame pinned on coyotes. In one case, a mutilated fawn was found on a lawn near a woodlot.

But Millar said an attack on a deer would be unlikely. "They're not really designed for taking down large prey."

Their food consists mostly of small rodents such as mice and voles that kill trees by girdling them.

"They do serve as a form of pest control," Millar said.

On balance, "if you add it all up, they're probably a bonus" to the environment, he said.

Millar is a featured mammal expert in a six-part series of talks at the Central Library on Nature in the City.

The series starts tonight at 7:30 p.m. and continues weekly until Feb. 19. (Millar's mammal talk is Feb. 12.)

The update on the Westminster Ponds/Pond Mills environmentally sensitive areas is tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Fish and Game Club on Southdale Road.


- Most active at dusk, night and dawn.

- Do not form packs, like wolves, but may move in small groups of siblings.

- Aren't considered major rabies carriers.

- Smart and adaptable.

- Vary in colour from blond to reds and brown and can weigh 45 pounds.

- Never feed them. Keep garbage in sealed containers.

- Keep pets indoors at night. In wooded areas, stick to trails and keep dogs leashed.

- If approached by a coyote, stay calm and wait until it moves on or make a loud noise to scare it away.

Source: Upper Thames River Conservation Authority

Thursday, January 03, 2008

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