Tuesday, April 24, 2007
- Organization: Globe & Mail
THE ERRORS OF CHARLES SMITH
Under pressure, the Ontario government grants an inquiry into a pathologist's questionable findings - and how people were affected
Notwithstanding Mr. Bryant's elaborate expressions of regret for those who have been convicted on potentially erroneous evidence from pathologist Charles Smith, they said that the Attorney-General has done little to get to the bottom of the brewing scandal.
"Sherry [Sherrett] has been through an unbelievable experience in the past 11 years," her lawyer, James Lockyer, said at a Queen's Park press conference. "She spent a year in jail for something that didn't happen. She has lived for all these years with the aura of having killed her child. For God's sake, Michael Bryant, do something about it today."
Almost simultaneously, Mr. Bryant was delivering the government's third version in four days of its Dr. Smith battle plan - a "full public inquiry."
However, Mr. Lockyer asked reporters at the press conference to forgive him for taking a "jaundiced view" of the announcement, given Mr. Bryant's recent equivocations
Ms. Sherrett wept as she added her voice to the dispute yesterday, saying that she has waited far too long for justice.
"Last Thursday, the Attorney-General said that he will do everything in his power to right the wrongs," she said. "So far, his Crowns have flatly refused to right my wrong. How much longer does he think I should live with the past, with the shame of being wrongly accused of killing my child?"
Ms. Sherrett said that, unlike most other miscarriages of justice, there are multiple victims in the Smith affair.
"One day, I would like to see Dr. Charles Smith under oath, saying why he did what he did to people like myself - mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles," she said. "I no longer have to account for anything at all. But Dr. Smith does."
At Dr. Smith's house in Victoria, his partner, Bonnie Leaderbeater, answered the doorbell but turned a reporter away. Asked if Dr. Smith was in, Ms. Leadbeater said: "No he's not, and he doesn't take any calls or interviews."
At a 1995 autopsy, Dr. Smith found signs consistent with homicide on the body of four-month-old Joshua. As revealed in The Globe yesterday, the child's body was secretly exhumed last year and found to have no marks of violence after a re-examination by top pathologist Michael Pollanen.
Besides losing her baby, Joshua, Ms. Sherrett's eldest son was removed from her care and permanently placed with adoptive parents.
Ms. Sherrett said yesterday that being convicted of killing her baby caused her to be treated like a pariah. "From that day on, I became a baby killer," she said. "You hear about this for so long that you begin to doubt yourself. For the whole 11 years, being a baby killer followed me everywhere I went. It haunts me still to this day."
Ms. Sherrett said that she still tends Joshua's grave regularly. "I still water the flowers at his grave," she said. "I sit and talk to him, and I hope he hears me and knows that I love him and never stopped loving him. Only Joshua knows at this point that I never harmed him. ... "
Ms. Sherrett was sentenced to a year in jail after she agreed not to contest the Crown's case. The agreement meant she did not have to face the possibility of spending life in prison for murder.
"Imagine the pressure on these people," Mr. Lockyer remarked. "They were always being offered light sentences. In many ways, this is a bad remark on the plea bargaining system."
Mr. Lockyer said he found it "absolutely bewildering" that Mr. Bryant would not call a full inquiry last Thursday when he announced that 20 cases conducted by Dr. Smith are in doubt.
Last year, Ms. Sherrett had a baby daughter. "For 11 years, every day I woke up and said I want to be a mom one more time," she said. "I wanted people to see me for who I really am - a funny, caring, loving person. I hold my head high and say: I am a good mom."
For the first time, she said, it is possible to play with her daughter without being under observation. "I no longer have to have people with me at all times. ... All three of my children are part of my life today, even though two of them I can no longer see."