Nothing is more tragic than the death of a child. In 1992 after a decade as head pediatric pathologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Charles Smith was made solely responsible for the autopsies of children who died sudden or suspicious deaths. For the next few years he was the demi-god of forensics when a child was autopsied to determine the cause of death. Thirteen criminal charges and convictions resulted from his expert testimony based on his forensic findings. In 2008 the chief forensic pathologist for Ontario ordered the Goudge inquiry into wrongful convictions in cases of shaken baby syndrome, cases that Charles Smith had done the autopsies for. Out of 44 reviewed cases, 20 with substantial problems came to light and had, as stated resulted in 13 convictions.
Yesterday, March 1, one of the persons convicted in this time, Maria Shepard was cleared and her conviction overturned. In 1992, she had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of her three and a half year old step-daughter rather than chance a much longer sentence if she went to trial. Strong evidence against her was based on the flawed results of the autopsy performed by Charles Smith. She is one of several cases that have been overturned and she has forgiven Smith for the two years she spent in jail for a crime she didn't commit and for the 25 years she lived under the cloud of her guilty plea.
This miscarriage of justice should never have occurred. Even those in the most elevated and important positions should not be above scrutiny. Thank goodness that the mistakes and the hubris of Charles Smith are being addressed. He has lost his medical license and is living in BC.
Forensic science is a wonderful tool for investigators. Because it is specialized, the concepts are not easily grasped by the general public and must be open to supervision or checks by more than one person. Miscarriages of justice taint everyone involved.
I've been writing on and off for years and this is where my more serious pieces will be.