Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Woman convicted in son’s death wants appeal before public inquiry into pathologist (2oo7)

Provided by: The Canadian Press
Written by: KEITH LESLIE
Apr. 23, 2007

Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant. (CPimages)

TORONTO -An Ontario woman convicted in 1999 of killing her infant son said Monday that a public inquiry into the work of former pathologist Dr. Charles Smith should not delay the fight to clear her name.

Sherry Sherrett said the Ontario government continues to block her efforts to appeal the conviction, despite a new autopsy showing her four-month-old son, Joshua, died of natural causes and an expert panel questioning Smith's work.

As a result, the Trenton, Ont., woman has gone public with her fight.

"I woke up to my son gone. He was taken from me. And from that day on, I became a baby killer. It haunts me still to this day," an emotional Sherrett told a news conference.

"People had labelled me as a baby killer, and when you hear this for so long you begin to doubt yourself. Only Joshua knows at this point that I never harmed him."

Sherrett wiped away tears as she spoke about Joshua's death, the first-degree murder charge laid against her, and about another son, now 13, who she will not be allowed to see until his eighteenth birthday.

"He sends me pictures. I'm updated twice a year and those packages, when I get them, I hold them in my lap and read over and over and over again," she said.

In 1999, Smith, then a pathologist at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, gave evidence at the criminal trial which ultimately saw Sherrett convicted of killing Joshua.

"To this day, I regularly visit his grave," said Sherrett. "I take care of his flowers, and I sit and talk with him and hope that he hears me, to know that I love him, and that I never stopped loving him."

Attorney General Michael Bryant could easily help Sherrett clear her name by allowing her to appeal her conviction to the Ontario Court of Appeal, said lawyer James Lockyer of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.

"She spent a year in jail for something that never happened," said Lockyer.

"She's lived with the aura of being a killer of her own child for all those years. For God's sake, Michael Bryant, do something about it today."

Earlier Monday, Bryant announced a full-scale public inquiry into Smith's work, something he was criticized for not doing immediately last week after a coroner's report questioned the pathologist's findings in 20 of 45 cases that were reviewed.

"I don't know why he didn't have the class to do it on Thursday," complained Lockyer. "Thank heaven he's had the class to do it today."

The name of the judge that will head the public inquiry and the terms of reference will be announced Wednesday after they're approved by the Liberal cabinet, said Bryant.

"We felt that power, of subpoena for people and documents, was important in these circumstances," Bryant told The Canadian Press in an interview.

Sherrett asked the media to pressure Bryant to help her appeal the conviction, saying he promised as much after the release of the coroner's report into Dr. Smith's work.

"Last Thursday, the attorney general said he would do everything to write the wrongs," said Sherrett.

"So far, his Crown (attorneys) flatly refused to right my wrong. How much longer does he think I should live with everything from the past, with the shame of being convicted of killing my own child?"

William Mullins-Johnson, who spent 12 years in prison for the murder of his four-year-old niece Valin, said Monday that he agreed with Sherrett about how hard it would be to shake the killer label.

"That label, Sherry's right, we'll have to deal with this for the rest of our lives," he said. "It's more than a stain on a person's life. It's a deep cut that a Band-Aid just can't heal."

Both Sherrett and Mullins-Johnson said they wanted to see Dr. Smith testify under oath at the public inquiry.

"I no longer have to account for anything at all, but Dr. Smith does," said Sherrett.

Mullins-Johnson, who was released from custody last year after evidence surfaced that Smith had lost tissue samples capable of showing Valin died of natural causes, agreed.

"Something has to be done. This guy has to be held accountable somehow, some way."

Mullins-Johnson's case has been sent to the federal justice minister for review, a process that could be completed as early as next month.

Smith's lawyer, Niels Ortved, refused to comment Monday on the province's move to call a public inquiry into Smith's work. Ortved told The Canadian Press that he doesn't even know yet whether he'll be representing Smith at the public inquiry.

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