Dr. Charles Smith sits on the stand at the Goudge inquiry in Toronto on Monday, Jan. 28. 2008. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Mon Jan. 28 2008 10:29:47
Disgraced pathologist Dr. Charles Smith, whose child death investigations resulted in a number of wrongful convictions, testified today that his training as a pathologist was "woefully inadequate."
Smith is testifying at a public inquiry in Toronto into systemic errors in the field of pediatric forensics.
The inquiry was ordered after serious doubts were raised about opinions given by Smith in roughly 20 cases of suspicious child deaths. In more than 12 of those cases, Smith's decisions led to criminal investigations or convictions.
Smith opened his testimony with an apology for his "mistakes."
"I do accept full responsibility for my work, for my opinions and for my action," said Smith.
"I do recognize that many people have questions for me and I will answer and provide testimony as best I can to help clarify these questions.''
He admitted that his training in forensic pathology was "minimal,'' that he was basically "self taught'' and that his behaviour at times was unprofessional.
Smith also said that despite the numerous cases in which he gave expert testimony, he now recognizes that he was "profoundly ignorant" of the role of expert witnesses and the way the criminal justice system works.
However, when asked about being described in the media as someone who saw abuse in every child's death, he said the description was "grossly erroneous."
The inquiry has heard months of testimony from experts and former colleagues.
Victims seek answers
One father spent more than a decade in prison for the death of his niece before being exonerated, and several mothers spent years in prison before the cases against them fell apart.
Sherry Sherret, who was convicted of killing her son based on an autopsy by Smith, travelled to Toronto to attend the hearing in hopes of getting some answers.
"I guess (I hope to receive) the answers," she told CTV's Canada AM.
"Why? If you needed help, why didn't you ask, why did you choose to do this? Why did you not ask for the help, say, 'could someone else go over this just to make sure it's right,'? It's just confusing as to why, honestly."
Sherret's own conviction in the death of her young son, who was sleeping in a playpen when he died, turned her life upside down, she told Canada AM.
She lost custody of her older son, who she hasn't seen since 1999 and is now being raised by his adoptive family. Sherret also spent several years in jail, and at times felt her life was over.
"It's been a long journey," she said, noting that she has since remarried and has a young daughter, but still looks forward to her son's 18th birthday, when she can see him again.
William Mullins-Johnson was also convicted based on Smith's findings. He spent 12 years in jail for the death of his niece before his conviction was quashed after six experts found no evidence to support Smith's finding that the girl had been sodomized and asphyxiated.
Lawyer Peter Wardle told The Canadian Press the parents and families affected by Smith's mistakes will be expecting more than just an apology.
"Many of them have waited 10 -- in one case 20 -- years to hear him give his side of the story," said Wardle, who represents several of the families.
"They all have questions they want answered."
Although his clients felt the apology delivered in November was "too little, too late," they're anxious to hear what Smith has to say, Wardle added.
The mandate of the inquiry is broader than just Smith's work, however.
Its objective is to take a look at errors that exist in Ontario's pediatric pathology system. Smith is facing a room full of lawyers seeking insight into how his work in pediatric pathology often served only to worsen the tragedy of a child's death.
With files from The Canadian Press