Thursday, October 21, 2010


“The chance to have my manslaughter conviction quashed is of huge importance to me,” she said in her affidavit. “I have had to deal with the emotional and financial consequences of this conviction for almost 15 years. I still struggle with my decision to plead guilty to a crime that I did not commit.”



Background: The inquiry focused largely on the flawed work of Dr. Smith — formerly the province's chief pediatric pathologist and a self-styled member of the prosecution team — whose "errors" led to innocent people being branded as child murderers.

The 1,000-page report by Justice Stephen Goudge slammed Dr. Smith, along with Ontario's former chief coroner and his deputy, for their roles in wrongful prosecutions and asked the province to consider compensation. The provincial coroner's office found evidence of errors in 20 of 45 autopsies Dr. Smith did over a 10-year period starting in the early 1990s. Thirteen resulted in criminal charges. William Mullins-Johnson, who was among those cases, spent 12 years in prison for the rape and murder of his four-year-old niece, whose death was later attributed to natural causes. In another case, Dr. Smith concluded a mother had stabbed her seven-year-old girl to death when it turned out to have been a dog mauling. The inquiry heard that Dr. Smith's failings included hanging on to crucial evidence, "losing" evidence which showed his opinion was wrong and may have assisted the accused person, misstating evidence, chronic tardiness, and the catastrophic misinterpretation of findings. The cases, along with other heart-rending stories of wrongful prosecutions based in part on Smith's testimony, also raised a host of issues about the pathology system and the reliance of the courts on expert evidence."


"They were the forgotten victims of a pathology scandal that rocked the country – two young mothers who delivered their babies on bathroom floors, alone and terrified, and then faced the might of the criminal justice system," the Globe and Mail story by Justice Reporter Kirk Makin published earlier today begins, under the heading, "Young mothers exonerated over pathology scandal errors."

"Both infants were dead within minutes of birth. Their mothers were tossed into a judicial nightmare that has only now ended, after they were exonerated by the Ontario Court of Appeal on Wednesday," the story continues.

"Mr. Justice Marc Rosenberg apologized for a legal juggernaut precipitated by Charles Smith, an Ontario pathologist whose star shone high from the 1970s until he was exposed two decades later as a careless physician who had routinely embellished his courtroom testimony. The cases of the young mothers were not noticed in the initial furor over the string of wrongful convictions being attributed to evidence from Dr. Smith.

“We want to acknowledge the suffering of the appellants and their families as a result of the flawed pathology that led to their convictions,” said Judge Rosenberg, flanked by Madam Justice Eleanore Cronk and Madame Justice Gloria Epstein.

The judges sent one woman, identified only as C.M., back to be tried for manslaughter. The other woman, C.F., was ordered back to trial for infanticide.

However, Crown counsel Alison Wheeler and Jennifer Woollcombe emphasized that their court dates will be a mere formality. They said that the charges will be withdrawn based on fresh pathology evidence that, contrary to what Dr. Smith surmised, the babies may have died from hemorrhaging or being strangled by their umbilical cords.

As court adjourned, C.M. paused for a moment before slipping away: “I’m happy with the way things worked out and I appreciate what the court said,” she said.

The court heard that both women protested their innocence, yet pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Partly, they had hoped to shield their families from further humiliation. They were also acting on the advice of defence lawyers who told them that if they fought their murder charges, it would be impossible to counteract Dr. Smith’s conclusions of foul play.

“Both of them felt overwhelmed by the situation – as were their counsel – because Dr. Smith, after all, was an invincible icon,” defence counsel James Lockyer told the court on Wednesday.

Based on their plea bargains, the women received sentences that involved community service and probation, but no jail time.

The cases came to light in a review of convictions involving evidence from Dr. Smith, and Mr. Lockyer got in touch with them four years ago to ask if they would like to ask the courts to reassess the verdicts.

In affidavits that were unsealed on Wednesday, the women said that they had been unaware they were pregnant – or in utter denial – until they found themselves discharging what turned out to be infants.

C.F. said that she had never visited a doctor about her protruding midriff and had simply deluded herself into believing she was putting on weight.

“I was confused and thinking about how much trouble I would be in when my parents came home and saw the mess I had made,” C.F. said. “It never occurred to me that the baby was alive. It made no noise and, as far as I could tell, wasn’t moving.”

Her father found her semi-conscious in bed when he returned home that day – Nov. 28, 1996. Her baby was later found in her closet, wrapped in a bag.

“It is not easy to explain the emotional upheavals I went through from that moment, when I was told in the hospital that I had given birth and the baby had died,” C.F. said in her affidavit.

She said that the tragedy became a staple of the local grapevine: “I was shunned by my friends and people who came into contact with me.

“Sitting in a bathroom with my own blood around me is an experience I hope never to have again,” C.F. added. “I do not believe that I caused my baby’s death. To this day, I remain haunted by the events of that day. I have never come to grips with this and I am ashamed and traumatized.”

C.M. never made it out of the bathroom after her baby was born. Her family found her in a pool of her own blood. Her baby’s remains were in the toilet.

“The chance to have my manslaughter conviction quashed is of huge importance to me,” she said in her affidavit. “I have had to deal with the emotional and financial consequences of this conviction for almost 15 years. I still struggle with my decision to plead guilty to a crime that I did not commit.”"


The story can be found at:


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: 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 accessed at:

For a breakdown of some of the cases, issues and controversies this Blog is currently following, please turn to:

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;