PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Guilty plea series: Part 2; Sherry Sherret-Robinson: The Innocence Project has demonstrated a compelling need to expose the disturbing number of convictions in America attributed to guilty pleas rendered by innocent people in America. However, the problem of false guilty pleas is is common to many other jurisdictions, including Ontario, where I reside. I would like to make my own contribution to the Innocence Project's campaign, by running a series of posts taken from this Blog and elsewhere, which vividly illustrates the point. (Many of the posts were based on reports by my friend and colleague the late Tracey Tyler. the Toronto Star's talented legal affairs reporter for many years, until her untimely death. She had no patience for miscarriages of justice). A common factor in many of the cases in this series is the presence of former doctor Charles Smith, the namesake of this Blog. In each case, the defence lawyer recommended a guilty plea to a lesser offence in order to avoid the ramifications of a conviction on the more serious charge - almost guaranteed by the now notorious former doctor's involvement in the case - in spite of the client's protests of innocence.
Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
THE EXONERATION OF SHERRY SHERRET: TORONTO STAR REPORT ON THE ACQUITTAL; REPORTERS THERESA BOYLE AND TRACEY TYLER;
"IN AFFIDAVITS FILED WITH THE APPEALS COURT, SHERRET-ROBINSON AND HER TRIAL LAWYER, BRUCE HILLYER, SAID THAT GIVEN SMITH'S FORMIDABLE REPUTATION, THEY DID NOT BELIEVE THEY WOULD BE ABLE TO SUCCESSFULLY CHALLENGE HIS EVIDENCE, SO THEY ACCEPTED THE CROWN'S OFFER TO WITHDRAW THE MURDER CHARGE IN EXCHANGE FOR A PLEA TO THE LESSER OFFENCE OF INFANTICIDE. SPARED A LIFE SENTENCE, SHERRET-ROBINSON GOT A YEAR IN JAIL, WHERE OTHER INMATES TAUNTED HER FOR BEING A "BABY KILLER.""
REPORTERS THERESA BOYLE AND TRACEY TYLER: THE TORONTO STAR;
"Sherry Sherret-Robinson was allowed to hold him one last time," the Toronto Star story by reporters Theresa Boyle and Tracey Tyler begins, under the heading "Baby killer' label erased at long last" and the sub-heading "Court rectifies another of Dr. Smith's blunders."
"There, in the emergency room of a Belleville hospital, she sang him a lullaby, refusing to let go," the story, published earlier today, continues.
"Her 4-month-old son, Joshua, was dead. It was the beginning of an ordeal that would claim 13 years of her life, tear apart her young family and hand her the jailhouse label of "baby killer."
Now, at 34, Sherret-Robinson can finally put the past behind her.
Calling her case a miscarriage of justice, a three-judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal set aside her 1999 conviction for infanticide Monday and acquitted the mother of two other children outright. Like dozens of other parents, she had been accused of killing her child on the basis of evidence from now-discredited pathologist Charles Smith.
As in so many other cases, Smith had blundered.
"You were wrongly convicted," Justice Marc Rosenberg said. With Sherret-Robinson seated in front of him in an Osgoode Hall courtroom, Rosenberg said it was "profoundly regrettable" she had to not only endure the justice system's mistake, but that the tragedy of Joshua's death was "compounded" by the loss of another son.
After she was charged, Sherret-Robinson's eldest son, Austin, now 15, was seized by children's aid officials and adopted by another family. Authorities also attempted to seize her daughter, Madison, born in 2005. She has not seen Austin for a decade, but Sherret-Robinson sends letters at Christmas and on his birthday and hopes he will contact her after he turns 18.
"I'd give anything to have him back," she said. "I'd graciously accept him with open arms."
For now, though, "it's a huge sigh of relief to have this finally put behind me and get on with my life," said Sherret-Robinson, who is engaged to be married and expecting a fourth child in April.
During a 2007-2008 public inquiry into Smith's mistakes, a panel of pathology experts testified Joshua probably suffocated accidentally after being placed in an unsafe sleeping environment. He slept on his stomach in a playpen surrounded by a sleeping bag and quilt.
In agreeing to the acquittal, Crown counsel Riun Shandler said Sherret-Robinson would not have been prosecuted had this evidence been available at the time.
It's the second time the Court of Appeal has overturned a conviction based on Smith's flawed scientific findings. Two years ago, it acquitted William Mullins-Johnson, who had been convicted in 1994 of murdering and sodomizing his niece, Valin.
Seven other cases in which Smith was found to have made mistakes are making their way through the appeals process. Another 22 cases from the 1980s, which were not part of the provincial inquiry into his work, are also being examined.
Sherret-Robinson's nightmare began on Jan. 22, 1996, when she awoke to find Joshua face-down in his playpen, stiff and blue. Sobbing, she called 911. When told that doctors could not revive him, all she wanted to do, she said, was curl up in a hole beside him.
Two months later, Sherret-Robinson was charged with second-degree murder. Anchoring the Crown's case was an expert opinion from Smith, then considered one of the world's leading pediatric forensic pathologists, who concluded Joshua had been asphyxiated by a third party.
In affidavits filed with the appeals court, Sherret-Robinson and her trial lawyer, Bruce Hillyer, said that given Smith's formidable reputation, they did not believe they would be able to successfully challenge his evidence, so they accepted the Crown's offer to withdraw the murder charge in exchange for a plea to the lesser offence of infanticide. Spared a life sentence, Sherret-Robinson got a year in jail, where other inmates taunted her for being a "baby killer."
By late 2005, she began running across stories about Smith on the Internet. At the same time, because of her conviction, children's aid officials were taking steps to have her newborn daughter, Madison, taken into care.
Sherret-Robinson ended up contacting lawyer James Lockyer and the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
A few months later, she was standing on a hill near a cemetery, watching as Joshua's body was exhumed, part of a review of 45 of Smith's old cases.
When Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario's chief forensic pathologist, and Dr. Jack Crane, state pathologist for Northern Ireland, examined the evidence in the case, they found there was no scientific basis for Smith's conclusion that Joshua had been deliberately asphyxiated.
Sherret-Robinson has had difficulty finding employment because of her criminal record. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of her ordeal.
The province has created a committee to look at compensation for Smith's victims.
Smith, meantime, has retired and lives in Victoria. He has never been charged criminally, but the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has referred him to a discipline hearing, a date for which has not been set."
The story can be found at:
See Innocence Canada account of the Sherret-Robinson case - by Sarah Harland-Logan - at the link below:..."At the last moment before her trial began, the Crown prosecutor offered to withdraw the murder charge and proceed with a charge of infanticide instead. If convicted of infanticide, Sherry would face a drastically reduced prison term. In exchange, Sherry would have to agree not to argue against the Crown’s allegation that she had smothered Joshua. So, although she would officially be pleading not guilty to the new charge of infanticide, she would be agreeing with the Crown’s position that she had hurt her baby. Despite Sherry knowing that she had not smothered Joshua, she felt that she had no choice but to accept this offer. She went to trial on the new charge of infanticide, and the Crown read out a list of agreed facts that included the untrue claim that she had smothered her son. The central supporting pillar of the Crown’s case was Charles Smith’s medical opinion that she was responsible for Joshua’s death. Predictably, on June 2, 1999, Sherry was found guilty of infanticide. She was sentenced to one year in prison, where other inmates called her a “baby killer.” It seemed that this stigma would follow Sherry for the rest of her life."
See 'Just Magazine' (Ontario Bar Association) article (by Harold Levy) on the agony experienced by Bruce Hillyer - her lawyer at the time of Sherret-Robinson's entry of the 'nolo contendere' plea at the link below..."Bruce Hillyer did not try to disguise the personal agony he had experienced in this case -m where it was ultimately established that Joshua had died a natural death - when he added in the letter that, "some cases come back to aunt you, and this is one of them."
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/