2008/01/28 | CityNews.ca Staff
They suffered three times by the actions of a single man. First by the accusations that they killed their own children or young relatives. Then by being put through the court system and in some cases serving time in jail for a crime they never committed. And finally for the lingering suspicion that will forever surround them, despite being proven innocent.
They are the victims of Dr. Charles Smith, the pathologist whose findings helped cast a cloud around dozens of people over the past two decades. While the scientist publicly apologized for his grievous mistakes Monday at an inquiry called to explore his actions, those who became victims of the physician's terrible errors aren't quite so ready to forgive and forget.
For William Mullins-Johnson (top left), who was sentenced to life in prison and spent a dozen years behind bars for molesting and killing his own niece, no apologies, no matter how heartfelt, will ever be enough to make up for what he lost.
"He put me in an environment where I could have been killed any day, any given day, based on lies," he notes bitterly. "So I don't hold much stock in apologies from him. I don't hold much stock in apologies from anybody in the field at the time, because they were propping him up. They were protecting him. I wasn't. I was doing the life sentence for something that didn't even happen."
Sherry Sherrett can feel his pain, because she shared it. The Trenton, Ontario mother was convicted of killing her four-month-old son in 1996, based mostly on Smith's sworn testimony.
She spent a year in jail on first-degree murder charges after the doctor found her infant died from a skull fracture and neck trauma in 1996. He believed the evidence pointed directly at the then-20-year-old, but when other pathologists re-examined the case, they discovered the death was actually caused by the baby getting his head caught in his bedding.
Now she wonders how he can live with himself after putting so many through so much.
"I would want to ask him face-to-face off the record, you know, why did he do it? How does he feel? And, you know, does he regret anything that he did? Because he doesn't know what it's like to be locked up, and, you know, you get called names. Your life is threatened when you're away and nothing can ever change that."
Sherrett knows if she can become an innocent victim so can anyone. And when the weight of the justice system is brought down with all the force of law on a person of limited means, it's a crushing force that's all but inescapable.
She questions what it takes to become deemed a true 'expert' in the field. "He's not a forensic pathologist," she insists. "He wasn't trained to do forensics. I watch CSI all the time. Can I be one?"
And she's not prepared to accept Smith's mea culpa. "He's turned so many people's lives upside down, it's time for him to answer."
Sherett's tragedy has been compounded because she lost custody of her other son, who has since been adopted.
Mullins-Johnson believes the doctor's performance was the proverbial crocodile tears. "Sugarcoated apology as far as I can see," he condemns. "There's really not much there to redeem him."
He's slowly repairing the terrible rift the case has put on his once loving family. How does he get through each day knowing some people still suspect him of such a heinous crime? "The old saying goes, keep a stiff upper lip and the best revenge is to live well, you know? And that's what I'm trying to do."
Mullins-Johnson was officially cleared of all charges in an emotional courtroom scene last October. He's expected to seek compensation for the life he lost while in prison. It's not yet clear how much he might ask for or how much he may be offered.
Sherrett is hoping the Crown will also acknowledge her innocence. She'll have her day in court next fall. Until then, she's been released from jail - but her conviction stands.
Most of the others who've felt the sting of Smith's trials of tribulations felt the same way and think more than just an apology is warranted.For a review of just some of the cases where Smith's testimony led to a false or questionable conviction, click here.