Leading experts plan to meet in spring to review most contentious convictions in shaken baby cases
Oct 02, 2009 04:30 AM
One year after a groundbreaking report exposed flaws in Ontario's forensic pathology system, investigations into dozens of cases continue, with a lawyer for victims of the notorious Dr. Charles Smith expecting more miscarriages of justice to be exposed.
"I've always guessed there will be several cases coming through the shaken-baby committee as likely miscarriages of justice," James Lockyer said Thursday.
He was referring to a committee struck by the province last December to investigate 142 child deaths dating back to 1986 to determine if wrongful convictions resulted from what is now viewed as questionable science.
A review into the shaken-baby deaths was one of the recommendations contained in a report by Justice Stephen Goudge, who headed a public inquiry into Ontario's troubled forensic pathology system. The inquiry was prompted by mistakes made by pathologist Dr. Charles Smith in 20 child-death investigations, 12 of which resulted in convictions.
Attorney General Chris Bentley said in an interview Thursday that cases that don't involve issues of criminality or where the convicted person is deceased are being dropped from the probe.
The most contentious cases will then be reviewed by an international panel of leading medical experts, who are scheduled to meet in Toronto next spring.
"There's no suggestion that anyone did anything wrong. It's just that the knowledge of this shaken-baby syndrome has evolved over the years," Bentley said.
New research shows that some babies once thought to have died from being violently shaken in fact suffered injuries as a result of falls.
Another committee struck by Bentley on the advice of Goudge is looking at 22 of Smith's older cases that were not part of the public inquiry. These are child-death investigations Smith worked on between 1981 and 1991 and they are now being reviewed with a view to determining whether there were any miscarriages of justice.
Bentley said that in cases where injustice is being claimed, the Crown will respond expeditiously to any legal steps taken by the defence.
A third committee is advising Bentley on the viability of a potential compensation framework for Smith's victims. It's headed by Justice Coulter Osborne, with whom Bentley met on Wednesday.
"I know it's a challenging issue. I'm hopeful," Bentley said.
Already, two people convicted of homicide-related crimes on the basis of shaken-baby syndrome have come to the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted for assistance, noted Lockyer, a director with the organization. Both are parents who did time in jail for the unrelated deaths of their children, one in the '80s and the other in the '90s.
"In cases where this pseudo-science was used to convict people of crimes of shaking which we can now say weren't (shaking), of course they should be reviewed as likely miscarriages of justice," Lockyer said.
Lawyer and child advocate Suzan Fraser said she hopes the province will also do something for siblings of dead children who were put up for adoption or into foster care after parents were wrongly implicated in child deaths.