Wrongly convicted mother Sherry Sherrett speaks during a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday, April 23, 2007.
Dr. Charles Smith
Woman convicted of infanticide wants name cleared
CTV.ca News Staff
A mother convicted of killing her child based on erroneous testimony from former Toronto pathologist Charles Smith called on Ontario's attorney general Monday to act quickly to correct the situation.
"Last Thursday, the Attorney General (Michael Bryant) said that he'd do everything to right the wrongs," Sherry Sherrett said at a press conference.
"So far, his Crown (attorneys) flatly refused to right my wrong. How much longer does he (Bryant) think I should live with everything from the past -- with the shame of being convicted of killing your own child?"
Sherrett spent a year in prison for the death of her four-month-old son Joshua, convicted in 1999 largely on the basis of Smith's damning evidence.
Her conviction was one of 13 placed in doubt after a review of Smith's case by Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner.
As part of the review, Joshua Sherrett's tiny body was exhumed. The body was found to have no marks of violence.
What Smith took to be a skull fracture was apparently nothing more than a normal anatomical feature. Further, neck wounds that Smith testified were cause for "consternation,'' instead appear to have been caused by a scalpel used at the autopsy.
The review found it likely that Joshua died accidentally, perhaps when the comforter in his crib became bunched around his head.
"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,'' said an emotional Sherrett, wiping away tears as she spoke about Joshua's death.
Despite the new autopsy showing her son Joshua died of natural causes, Sherrett alleges that the Ontario government continues to block her efforts to appeal the conviction.
In 1999, the Crown noted that Sherrett may have "smothered" her child while suffering postpartum depression, and offered to drop the charge to infanticide. Although Sherrett says she was innocent, she chose to plead guilty rather than face a second-degree murder trial involving testimony from Smith -- considered at the time to be the continent's leading pediatric forensic pathologist.
In 2000, Sherrett's eldest child was later seized by authorities and adopted. Because of her conviction, Sherrett is forbidden to see her son until he is 18.
Lawyer James Lockyer, with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, also criticized Bryant for not acting to help Sherrett clear her name.
"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," he said at the press conference.
Lockyer said Bryant and his office have known about Sherrett's case as early as March 2006 but "have refused to do anything."
A review of 43 of Smith's child autopsies found that he had made errors in 20.
Thirteen of those cases resulted in criminal convictions, and one person is still behind bars.
The Ontario government will hold a public inquiry into the matter, after former Ontario Superior Court chief justice Patrick LeSage completes an audit on how forensic pathology reports are handled, to prevent future problems.
The inquiry will have the power to subpoena witnesses into Smith's work.
Bryant said earlier that the government has found a senior judge to head the inquiry. The name of the commissioner and the terms of reference will be made public on Wednesday.
CTV's legal expert and defence attorney Steven Skurka says he welcomes an inquiry.
"The system broke down because the system relied on an expert coming and testifying, in good faith, with no checks or balances. That's the problem. Too much faith was put in this one expert," Skurka told Canada AM.
"And obviously, we have to learn lessons. We have to look to competing experts, other forensic pathologists and get their opinions.
"Expert witnesses play such an important role in criminal trials because it's really -- the jury doesn't understand it. They rely on that expert. That's why we need to have checks and balances to make sure when they testify they do so objectively and impartially."