Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ont. woman hopes for exoneration in child's death (2oo7)

Last Updated: Monday, April 23, 2007 | 5:38 AM ET

An Ontario woman says she has suffered "a mother's worst nightmare" and hopes to prove she was wrongly convicted of killing her four-month-old son now that the work of the child pathologist in the case has been thrown into doubt.

Sherry Sherrett was convicted of infanticide in 1999 after Dr. Charles Smith conducted the autopsy on her son Joshua.

Sherry Sherrett, at a news conference Monday, said she lost two children. \Sherry Sherrett, at a news conference Monday, said she lost two children. "One to death, and the other one to Dr. Smith's findings."

The case is one of 20 child autopsies that Ontario's chief coroner, Dr. Barry McLellan, flagged during a review of Smith's autopsies conducted between 1991 and 2002. Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant said Monday the province will hold a full public inquiry into Smith's work.

Sherrett told reporters Monday in Toronto that she hopes McLellan's findings in those cases will add weight to her efforts to clear her name.

Sherrett, now 32 and the mother of an 19-month-old daughter, recalled the pain of having her other son removed from her home in 1996 when she was charged with smothering Joshua with a pillow.

She hasn't seen her now 12-year-old son in years and won't be able to visit him until he is 18.

"I lost two children," Sherrett said. "One to death, and the other one to Dr. Smith's findings."

Sherrett found Joshua dead in his playpen on the morning of Jan. 23, 1996. At the preliminary hearing, Smith testified he found a skull fracture and microscopic hemorrhages on Joshua's neck.

Six months in jail

Sherrett pleaded not guilty to infanticide, but was convicted and spent six months behind bars.

As a result of her son's death, Sherrett said her marriage fell apart. She can't find work or travel to the U.S.

"People labelled me a baby killer," she said. "You don't lose that name. It stays with you."

In 2005, Sherrett fell in love and got pregnant. Shortly after giving birth, she asked a lawyer help her keep her daughter.

During Monday's press conference, she cited a recent Children's Aid Society report that declared she was not considered a risk to her youngest child.

"Those were magic words to my ears, to be able to play with my daughter without being watched.

"She's my life now, and people know I am a good mom."

Lawyer targets Bryant

James Lockyer, a director with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, asked Ontario's chief pathologist, Michael Pollanen, to review the case last year.

"Dr. Pollanen … came back with the opinion that the causes of death given by Dr. Charles Smith were wrong and her baby died of natural causes, likely as a consequence of the comforter in the crib," he said.

In his report, Pollanen also wrote Joshua never had a skull fracture and the neck injuries were actually caused by Smith during his taking of samples during the autopsy.

Smith, a one-time leading expert on pediatric forensics, was working at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children when the examinations took place.

A review of 45 autopsies conducted by Smith was launched nearly two years ago after several of the criminal cases he worked on collapsed.

Lockyer said he would use Pollanen's findings to support his application to overturn Sherrett's conviction and called on the attorney general to take immediate action on her case.

He noted he alerted the Ontario Criminal Conviction Review Committee about the case five months ago, but has not heard back.

"To this date, they have refused to do anything," Lockyer told reporters Monday.

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