Saturday, February 27, 2016

Maria Shepherd: Exoneration (4) : Guilty plea series (1): Richard Brant; Other innocent people pleaded guilty in order avoid having to face once-famed former doctor Charles Smith in the courtroom: "Pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit was the hardest decision of Richard’s life. Years later, he would file an affidavit – part of his effort to clear his name – in which he explained that “I did nothing to cause Dustin’s death and I still grieve for him. I never did anything to hurt my son…. I did not cause Dustin’s death or assault him in any way, and pled guilty because I felt I had no other realistic option.”

PUBLISHER'S NOTE:  Maria Shepherd was not the only innocent, grieving parent - to plead guilty to an offence in order to avoid having to face  former doctor Charles Smith. What is extraordinary is that I am aware of five cases in which innocent parents pleaded guilty to avoid what they had been assured would be an almost certain conviction - and much harsher sentence  -  all  because of one prosecution expert. This is extraordinary. The police and prosecutors loved Charles Smith for his ability to extract guilty pleas, close the case, and keep the public calm. (Until the stacked  deck of cards began  collapsing); All the police officer had to do was hint to the  'suspect' that the Crown's expert pathologist was renowned throughout the province and beyond - and   the guilty plea was almost assured. I am starting this series with AIDWYC's account of Richard Brant's guilty plea to aggravated assault - rather than manslaughter. I have included excerpts below. The entire backgrounder on the Brant case - written by Sarah Harland-Logan for AIDWYC's web-site - can be found at the link below;

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;

GIST: "On November 17, 1992, nineteen-year-old Richard Brant, of Belleville, Ontario, was out for a walk with Dustin, his infant son. Richard was very proud to be a new father and looked forward to raising Dustin with his girlfriend, Mary Farrell. When he ran into his cousin, Richard excitedly lifted up the hood on Dustin’s baby carriage to introduce the two. He was horrified to find that Dustin was motionless in the carriage, with red foam around his nose. Richard and his cousin immediately rushed Dustin to a nearby restaurant and called 911. Dustin was briefly revived at the hospital, but the doctors soon told Richard and Mary the devastating news that their baby was not going to survive. Dustin passed away on November 18, only nine weeks after his birth.[1] A nearby police officer had happened to observe Richard’s initial, horrified reaction when he saw that Dustin was not moving. This officer thought that Richard was indeed both surprised and upset.[2] However, the police who investigated Dustin’s death took a different view. Dustin's autopsy: "Dustin’s autopsy was performed at the Kingston General Hospital, by Dr. Sukrita Nag, a Professor of Neuropathology. Dr. Nag concluded that Dustin had died due to complications from pneumonia, which made sense to Richard, since Dustin had been suffering from an upper respiratory infection shortly before his death.[3] However, the police investigators still believed that Richard had killed his son, despite the complete absence of any evidence to support this theory. They requested a second opinion from the now infamous Charles Smith, who was then regarded as Ontario’s leading pediatric forensic pathologist.[4] Smith reached a very different conclusion from that of Dr. Nag. In his report of April 15, 1993, Smith stated that Dustin exhibited the classic symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome, and that Richard’s shaking his son had led to Dustin’s death. Smith arrogantly claimed that Dr. Nag’s autopsy report should be “filed in the garbage can.”[5 Smith felt comfortable submitting this report even though he had not examined Dustin’s brain – which is absolutely crucial to making this diagnosis – since it had already decomposed owing to the fact morgue staff had accidentally left it in a container of water.[6] On April 22, 1993, Richard was arrested and charged with manslaughter.  Richard's plea bargain; Richard knew that he was innocent; but he also knew that he would face a stiff sentence if he were found guilty of manslaughter. Charles Smith would be the prosecution’s star witness, and Richard’s lawyer had told him that Smith was viewed as “the king” of his field. His compelling testimony could easily lead to a conviction, and Richard could spend up to fifteen years in jail.[8] In addition, Richard and Mary had separated, unable to bear the tragedy of Dustin’s death together; and Richard’s new partner, Lynne, was expecting a baby. Having just lost his first child, he could not bear the thought of not being part of this new baby’s life.[9] However, Richard had another option. After his preliminary hearing – where he had realized just “how much trouble … [he] was in” – the Crown prosecutor offered him a plea bargain. If Richard agreed to plead guilty to aggravated assault, then he could expect to spend only six to nine months in jail. Richard’s lawyer urged him to accept this offer. Richard agonized over what to do.[10] On April 21, 1995, Richard pled guilty to aggravated assault. He was sentenced to six months in prison.[11] After his release, Richard was ostracized by members of his community, who believed that he had killed his newborn baby. Richard soon moved to Montreal, and then to Moncton, hoping to start a new life.[12] Pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit was the hardest decision of Richard’s life. Years later, he would file an affidavit – part of his effort to clear his name – in which he explained that “I did nothing to cause Dustin’s death and I still grieve for him. I never did anything to hurt my son…. I did not cause Dustin’s death or assault him in any way, and pled guilty because I felt I had no other realistic option.” Flawed medical evidence:  For over a decade after his conviction, Richard tried to put this horrific chapter behind him, unaware that Charles Smith’s vaunted reputation had started to crumble. AIDWYC’s work on the Bill Mullins-Johnson case had raised serious doubts about Smith’s findings, and AIDWYC was growing suspicious of Smith’s conclusions in other cases as well. In April 2005, AIDWYC wrote to Dr. Barry McLellan – then the Chief Coroner for Ontario – and Michael Bryant – then the Attorney General – urging a full public inquiry into Smith’s work.[14] On June 7, 2005, Dr. McLellan announced in a press release that a formal review would be conducted into Smith’s work on 45 cases involving suspicious deaths of children.[15] One of these cases was Dustin’s. This inquiry, led by Justice Stephen Goudge, resulted in the publication of the Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario.[16] The reviewer assigned to Dustin’s case was a forensic neuropathologist, Dr. Whitwell.[17] She concluded – and several other experts later agreed – that there was no evidence to support Smith’s finding that Richard had hurt Dustin. Dr. Whitwell stated that since Dustin’s brain had not been preserved properly, there should have been no finding as to his cause of death. She did note, however, that pneumonia might indeed have played a role, as Dr. Nag had originally found.[18] In May of 2007, Richard was surprised to hear from AIDWYC lawyer James Lockyer, who informed him that Dustin’s case had been reviewed and that the experts agreed that there was no evidence suggesting that Richard had harmed his son. Richard realized that “suddenly, … [his] vindication was possible and the truth about Dustin’s death might come out.”[19].........Causes of Richard’s Wrongful Conviction: The principal cause of Richard’s wrongful conviction was disgraced ex-pathologist Charles Smith’s baseless claim that Richard had caused Dustin’s death by shaking him. The results of the Goudge Inquiry definitively destroyed Smith’s once-stellar reputation. This comprehensive report found that Smith had no training in forensic pathology – the field in which he was trained was paediatric pathology – which led to many misdiagnoses such as that made in Dustin’s case.[24] Moreover, Smith was a terrible expert witness who often “provided unbalanced or emotive testimony, which tended to invite inappropriate and adverse conclusions.”[25] Smith was eventually stripped of his medical license.[26]......... The Wounds that AIDWYC Cannot Heal: “Destroyed” seems to be the word of choice to describe the impact of Richard’s wrongful conviction. After his acquittal, Richard explained that although a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders, “This just destroyed me.”[28] Or, as Mary, Dustin’s mother put it, “I knew he was innocent from day one, and I knew that they destroyed our lives and our family.”[29] She recalled how police treated them like criminals, though they were “loving young parents.”[30] When reporters asked him about Charles Smith, Richard understandably responded that “He ruined a lot of people’s lives. And I think he needs to go and see what it’s like inside jail ’cause he’s the one that put a lot of people there.”[31] Smith’s report that cost Richard so much was “not a little wee mistake,” after all, but rather “a life mistake”: one that pertains to “lives he’s destroyed.”[

The entire  account can be found at:


Dear Reader. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog. We are following this case.