PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Guilty Plea series: Part 5; Canadian cases; Maria Shepherd; 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;
Friday, June 3, 2016
Maria Shepherd: Ontario: "I continued to advise Wiley that I had done nothing to harm our daughter and profess my innocence. Wiley would take steps to obtain authorization from Legal Aid to retain other experts, one locally and one in Philadephia. Wiley would retain the first Private Investigator named Jack. The feeling of hope started to come – but it did not stay for long. The two forensic experts concurred with Smith. The first Private Investigator was actually trying to get witnesses to make statements against me. No one would challenge Smith. No one. He was the God of Paediatric Forensic Science. Hope quickly started dying. I was later convicted based upon guilty plea to save what was left of my family. With a guilty plea, it would enable me to serve my sentence in a prison close to the children. I would be able to have touch visits. I would serve a shorter sentence and be recommended for early parole. I would have a better chance of regaining custody of my children because I was showing remorse. There was no other choice. At the time I entered my guilty plea and was sentenced, I was 3 months pregnant. It was possible that I could be paroled in time to deliver my youngest daughter, Chanel. I stood a better chance of not losing another newborn if I showed remorse. Remorse for a crime I did not commit. The guilty plea was strategic. I had to enter the plea before my Mother arrived to Orangeville Court that morning, or else my mother would die watching it happen. After my mother arrived, we told her. My mother cried loudly, began falling to her knees and kept asking my lawyer, why over and over again. Her voice and cries echoing in the quiet courthouse hallway. On the day I turned myself in to start my sentence, I was handcuffed and shackled at the feet. I was wearing a black maternity dress with a burgundy bow. I would start my sentence at Metro West Detention Centre where I would have an anxiety attack with hours. I was told to tell the inmates that I was there for murdering my husband, because baby killers get killed. The time here would be my first encounter of a prison setting in my life."
Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.
MARIA SHEPHERD'S SPEECH TO AIDWYC'S ANNUAL MEETING; DELIVERED MAY 28, 2016. (AIDWYC HAS FORMALLY CHANGED ITS NAME TO INNOCENCE CANADA);
"Good morning everyone, I have to apologize for my husband. He left for his yearly men’s fishing trip today. He certainly deserves it. Before I commence, I would like to dedicate today to my late Mother, Maria Ibanez Crespo, who passed away due to a fall last June. On this very day, one year ago, my mother fell and succumbed to her injuries 6 days later. My mother was my biggest inspirations to be a compassionate, caring, loving and strong woman. A woman who never judged anyone. A woman with open arms and heart to all. A living angel as I always said and still say. She was a devote Catholic and always turned to her faith when in dire times. I am deeply saddened she is no longer alive to see the day of my Acquittal and also no physically present here today. I do know that she is here in spirit and her legacy lives through me. This one is for you Mom. I can finally tell our story. Today, I am also missing Romeo Phillion terribly. I know he is here with me us in spirit. My name is Maria Shepherd. I am 46 years of age, a wife of 26 years, proud mother to 5 amazing children and glowing grandmother of 3 blessed granddaughters. This is the true story about the life of my wrongful conviction for 25 years. I had spent more than half of my life known as the murderer of my own daughter (stepdaughter). I am most uncomfortable using the term stepdaughter because up until I was charged in her death, I never referred to her as my stepdaughter nor myself as her stepmother. I have always loved our Kasandra as if she were born to me. Kasandra joined our family unit after a bitter custody proceedings . A Family Court Justice , awarded interim custody to my husband. I was instrumental in initiating custody proceedings for Kasandra. She was in dire need of a healthy, steady and loving home life. My husband Ashley and I were able to provide this to her and were happy to have her home full-time. Kasandra was one and a half years old when custody was awarded to us. Indeed, one of the happiest days of our lives. Kasandra was a funny, happy little girl who loved toys, baths, Care Bears, Barney and daycare. Her favourite song was “I’m a nut” and she loved balloons very much. In February of 1991, Kasandra seemed to have caught a flu bug. She was vomiting. We would take her to regular almost weekly visits to the doctor to try and find out what was wrong. Ultimately, Kasandra was admitted to hospital for about a month. During her stay in the hospital, Kasandra would undergo several tests to try and determine what was wrong. One of those tests was a CT SCAN. We would see some improvement but no formal findings of what was medically wrong with her. After some improvement, Kasandra was released home to us in March. One of the conditions of released was that we were to bring Kasandra to see a Neurologist for CT results. The Neurologist told us that there was a bit more space between Kasandra’s brain and skull, but not to be concerned as this was normal. No follow up visit with the Neurologist was ever scheduled. After a few weeks of being home and returning to access visits with her birth mother, Kasandra’s vomiting would return, but with a vengeance. She began projectile vomiting, she was not able to hold down food. She would become severely lethargic at times. I would often have to hold her head up and try to feed her. It seemed like she was losing sight as she would slowly stop focusing on anything. We continued regular doctors visits and continued to seek medical advice. We were told to continue with Gravol and perhaps changing the amount and times of food. This did not help. On April 9, 1991, Kasandra experienced, what we have now learned was a petite mal seizure while in my room. Her eyes had rolled to the back of her head and she twitched briefly. She projectile vomited again. I did not know at the time that this was a seizure in a child. There was no indications prior to Kasandra’s release from the medical team that there was any concern of seizures. Even though, we had advised the medical team of previous doctors that Kasandra’s birth mother suffered from Grand Mal seizures and was on medicine for same. Specifically, Tegretol. Later on the evening of April 9, 1994, my husband had returned home from work. Shortly after his arrival, Kasandra would vomit again. My husband would bathe and change Kasandra . My husband and brought Kasandra down to the living and then suddenly, Kasandra had a Grand Mal Seizure. Her eyes rolled back into her head. Her body was jerking violently. She stopped breathing but after a friend did CPR. Kasandra began to breathe again. Paramedics arrived a short while later. One of the Paramedics strongly advised that Kasandra should be transferred to Sick Kids hospital right away. Kasandra was initially treated at Peel Memorial Hospital. It is here where we feel strongly that Kasandra was not properly cared for. Kasandra would be placed in a cubicle. My husband and I closely watching Kasandra. We could see that another seizure was starting and we would try to alert the nurses. They did nothing to prioritize Kasandra. Kasandra would have the worst Grand Mal seizure ever. Her eyes rolled back into her head. She was squealing loudly, her back arched and body jerking violently against the gurney. This would be the last time we would see Kasandra alive. Just several days after after Kasandra’s death and funeral , the police commenced their investigation. It was clear after a while, the police were targeting me, along with the guidance of Charles Smith. One Officer, made it clear – give them what they want or else the papers would read “Stepmother kills Stepdaughter” and your children will be taken away. On the advise of close family friends of my parents, we sought out Counsel. We would ask Counsel to attend with us for polygraphs. He said he was not available but could recommend a retired RCMP Officer for a fee. We did not have the money. Despite answering all questions by the police and cooperating fully. They were no satisfied with us. My husband and I could not understand why this was happening. We had done nothing wrong to Kasandra. I was soon charged with killing Kasandra. My world quickly changed. I was quickly stripped away from my newborn, a one year old and a five year old. My Chelsea, Natasha and Jordan. They went to live with my parents. My husband stayed by my side. I was now an alleged murdered of a child. Our child. I wanted to die. My days of pre-trial were not easy. I would initially retain first counsel through Legal Aid. First Counsel (whom I shall refer to hereinafter as “First Counsel” so as to not release the actual name) would have me convicted of Breach of Recognizance because I was several hours late to sign in with the police. Even though, I walked into the police station and explained that I had been at the cemetery earlier and had cried myself to sleep. I overslept and missed my sign in time. At the Preliminary Hearing, First Counsel did not put up an aggressive defence argument. He did not retain any other expert witnesses to challenge Charles Smith. I have no recollection of any Charter Applications either. First Counsel never ever once showed me disclosure. First Counsel would only meet with me a handful of times and no more. First Counsel was clearly impressed and swayed by Smith. The Superhero Expert that walked into the courtroom and wooed everyone with his presence and so called knowledge was actually a Fraud with no formal training. Despite telling First Counsel of the concerns we had about the lack of care Kasandra received at Peel Memorial Hospital, he failed to ever advise me that he was actually on the Board for Peel Memorial Hospital. I would later find out while walking through the hospital one day for an unrelated reason. First Counsel had a conflict of interest from day one. I would later discharge First Counsel and retained new Counsel, J. Thomas Wiley. Wiley would immediately take steps to have my Breach of Recognizance conviction overturned. Wiley would meet with me on a regular basis and for the first time, I would start seeing the Crown’s disclosure. I continued to advise Wiley that I had done nothing to harm our daughter and profess my innocence. Wiley would take steps to obtain authorization from Legal Aid to retain other experts, one locally and one in Philadephia. Wiley would retain the first Private Investigator named Jack. The feeling of hope started to come – but it did not stay for long. The two forensic experts concurred with Smith. The first Private Investigator was actually trying to get witnesses to make statements against me. No one would challenge Smith. No one. He was the God of Paediatric Forensic Science. Hope quickly started dying. I was later convicted based upon guilty plea to save what was left of my family. With a guilty plea, it would enable me to serve my sentence in a prison close to the children. I would be able to have touch visits. I would serve a shorter sentence and be recommended for early parole. I would have a better chance of regaining custody of my children because I was showing remorse. There was no other choice. At the time I entered my guilty plea and was sentenced, I was 3 months pregnant. It was possible that I could be paroled in time to deliver my youngest daughter, Chanel. I stood a better chance of not losing another newborn if I showed remorse. Remorse for a crime I did not commit. The guilty plea was strategic. I had to enter the plea before my Mother arrived to Orangeville Court that morning, or else my mother would die watching it happen. After my mother arrived, we told her. My mother cried loudly, began falling to her knees and kept asking my lawyer, why over and over again. Her voice and cries echoing in the quiet courthouse hallway. On the day I turned myself in to start my sentence, I was handcuffed and shackled at the feet. I was wearing a black maternity dress with a burgundy bow. I would start my sentence at Metro West Detention Centre where I would have an anxiety attack with hours. I was told to tell the inmates that I was there for murdering my husband, because baby killers get killed. The time here would be my first encounter of a prison setting in my life. I would witness things in the prison that were terrifying. I was housed in Protective Custody for my own protection and safety. I would later be transferred to Vanier Centre for Women. Upon arriving I was immediately confronted and called a baby killer and was told by inmates that they have been awaiting my arrival. Although I was still receiving protection by Correctional Officers, this would quickly stop as I had to waive my right to Protective Custody in order to go to Vanier and be closer with the children. During my stay at Vanier, an inmate threated to shove a broom stick up my a…. . My life was in constant danger – at any time an inmate could attack me. There were times when knives went missing and we would be placed into lockdown – in fear the knife was meant for me. When I was eligible to apply for a Temporary Absence Pass (TAP) after I had earned it, the Superintendent of Vanier, denied my requests because he did not like me because of my conviction and circumstances around it. With the help of a Liasion Worker, I was later allowed to go home initially for one day. I would later apply to the Parole Board for early Parole. Although I had to once again accept responsibility for Kasandra’s death in order to qualify for parole, I was denied because they said I cried too much and was emotionally unstable. I was later released on day Parole. I was released to a half way house in March of 1993. I would give birth to my baby and we would be separated. I was not allowed to be alone with any of my children. By June of 1993, I was released on full parole. It was a good feeling to be back in the community . I would continue the fight of my life. Now it was time to start rebuilding my family and headed to family Court. After approximately 3 years, I had won and my husband and I were given back our autonomy. The Family Court Justice could see that there was nothing the CAS was reporting that indicated that I was a risk to my children. For the first time in several years, my family and I could be together again. Shortly after my release, I was hired by defence Counsel, Wiley to work in his law office as a receptionist. It later blossomed into several years working for the law firm which consisted of 4 criminal lawyers. I later went on as an unregulated Paralegal. This went well for awhile until I received a call in 2006… Charles Smith had been caught. He was a fraud. A great sense of elation but great sadness once again. My case was being reviewed as a wrongful conviction – for the first time I had hope that my innocence would now be known. Then again, my world fell apart. My emotions were overwhelming. I slipped into a deep depression. The feeling of grief over losing Kasandra had been quiet and lonely. With the reopening of the case, all the emotions came rushing in. Happiness, sadness, grief and sorrow. When Wiley told my a Mr. James Lockyer wished to meet with me, I was dumbfounded…I said “who is James Lockyer ?” and what is AIDWYC. I had not known all those years that AIDWYC had even existed. After meeting with Mr. Lockyer, I later met with Win Wahrer and then began attending events with AIDWYC. Another downfall came when the Law Society was going to regulate Paralegals. I would not qualify because of my conviction. My profession I had worked so hard for was gone. There was no more income until I was able to find a job working in a clothing store. A Coroner’s Inquest was held in approximately 1997. It was crucifying. I was subjected to once again having to admit I had killed Kasandra. I was on parole and did not want to risk having my parole revoke for recanting my remorse. I was the City’s scapegoat. They got away with it. From 1993 – present, I always maintained a sense of hope that I could prove my innocence. During these years I watched my entire family suffer including my mother and father. Regardless of all the challenges, I always maintained hope. My mother always taught me to pray and be patient for God to answer. He did on Leap Year, Lead Day – February 29, 2016. But also through those years, I watched my daughter run home from elementary school crying because of an article in the newspaper about me that her fellow classmate brought to school. I watched my son, cry and cry for me. Watched my children grow up with a mother known as a convicted murderer of their sister. It has many times almost taken my life. My depression led to medications that led to attempts and thoughts of suicide. The shame and embarrassment of being a convicted murderer. The failure at my profession. I have also been in therapy with a Forensic Psychologist for the last 10 years. On the eve of my Acquittal. It was just before midnight. Jordan, my eldest son, asked me to go for a walk across from the hotel. We walked and then sat in the rain in front of the Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips square – for the first time he told me his biggest fear… a fear of one day coming home from school and finding his mother hanging dead because she had given up. This will always haunt me. What still hurts and angers me deeply today is that I had to sacrifice half my life to preserve my family for a crime I never committed. Yet, the perpetrators like Smith, Cairns, Young and the police Officers walk free of any criminal accountability for taking our lives for a quarter of a century. Since when is Fraud and misconducted in criminal proceedings not a crime ? There must be a way. I am not the only victims, there are many and we deserve the right to see criminal accountability where it rightfully belongs. Even though you are acquitted, the stain will always be there. Even after my acquittal, when media published me story on social media, there were hurtful comments like “ she should have gotten the electric chair…opps” and she should be “raped, murdered and dumped”. In closing, I would like you all to know that it is very difficult to summarize 25 years of pain and agony in less than an hour, but there is much to tell and it will come out with the release of a book that is in the works by my dear friend and writer, Frank Monaco. I wish to extend my deepest gratitude to everyone at AIDWYC and all the volunteers for all that you have done for myself, my family and other wrongly convicted. I will now always call you Angels of Justice. A special thank you to Mr. Lockyer and my legal team to for their tireless work and dedication. For believing in my innocence and finally helping me to prove it. To Win Wahrer, thank you for all the seemlingly endless hours of counselling, love and support and especially standing in for my mom on the day of my acquittal. My son is here today as living proof that children of the wrongly convicted also suffer deeply, but they too also come out to be the next generation of crusaders against Wrongful Convictions. I choose hope – I am now on my way to becoming a Licensed Paralegal – only a few more steps to take. I hope I can educate others with my experience and also bring hope to others wrongly convicted. Hope never dies – even when you think it has. It doesn’t. The wrongly convicted must hold on to faith, for it is always there. We owe our lives to all of you. For me, with the Grace of God and on the wings of Kasandra and my Mother, I will continue this fight to correct and prevent wrongful convictions. Water is one of the strongest elements in the world. One raindrop makes a ripple, but many raindrops makes an ocean. Let the ocean flow, please join AIDWYC today or donate to the cause. One conviction is too many. There are many we need to save now."http://smithforensic.blogspot.ca/2016/06/maria-shepherd-ontario-i-continued-to.html
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/