Dr. Charles Randal Smith was the head pediatric forensic pathologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, from 1982 to 2003. The quality of his autopsies, and the resulting criminal charges and convictions of several people have been called into question, and a full public inquiry has been promised.
Dr. Smith graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1975. He completed his training in Pathology at the University of Toronto and was certified as an anatomical pathologist in 1980. He joined the Hospital for Sick Children in 1981 as one of the rotating team of pathologists, and shortly was doing autopsies on children who had met sudden or suspicious deaths.
In 1992 the Ontario Coroner’s Office created a pediatric forensic pathology unit at Hospital for Sick Children and Smith was appointed director. He had become almost solely responsible for investigating suspicious child deaths in Ontario. In this period he conducted hundreds of autopsies and testified in court multiple times. He conducted training sessions for lawyers on how to examine and cross-examine expert witnesses, and training for law-enforcement and medical staff on detecting child abuse. He pioneered the use of CAT-scan technology on the remains of children to detect the signs of abuse.
In 2002 he received a reprimand with a caution from the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons for his work on three suspicious death cases, and in 2003 he was removed from performing autopsies. In July 2005 he resigned to take up a position at Saskatoon City Hospital, from which he was dismissed in December 2005. He was reinstated for a period in 2006, after arbitration. He pled guilty to a charge of unprofessional conduct handed down by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, for not disclosing he was under investigation in Ontario. He currently resides in Victoria.
In 2005 the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario launched a full review of 44 autopsies conducted by Dr. Smith, including 13 that had resulted in criminal convictions. Released in April 2007, It concluded that at least 20 of them were unsatisfactory.
Cases of Concern
An un-named 12 year old (the names of children under 18 and their families charged with crimes cannot be released under Canadian Law) from Timmins, Ontario, was charged with manslaughter, based on Dr. Smith’s testimony, and 3 years and $150,000 later, she was completely cleared in 1991. Ontario Provincial Court Judge Patrick Dunn, after hearing from 9 other expert witnesses testifying that the cause of death was an accidental fall, criticized Dr. Smith for not even following his own prescribed autopsy procedures in accusing the Grade 6 student of shaking a 16-month-old baby to death.
Lianne Thibeault (née Gagnon) 11 month old son Nicholas died suddenly in 1995. The police investigation ruled out foul play, but a year later the chief coroner’s office asked Dr. Smith to review the case, and he concluded that it was homicide, attributable to blunt head injury. He exhumed the body, and after performing an autopsy concluded that Nicholas died from brain swelling consistent with blunt force injury, although he could not rule out asphyxiation.
When the Crown did not lay charges, Dr. Smith informed the Children’s Aid Society that he was 99% certain that Thibeault, then pregnant, had killed Nicholas. The CAS took wardship of her unborn child and placed her name on the list of known child abusers. After the birth, she was not allowed to be alone with her baby. Her father launched a court battle to clear her name, which was ultimately successful, with the Court’s own independent expert summarily dismissing Smith’s opinion. CAS did a complete about-face.
Maureen Laidley was charged with killing Tyrell Salmon, the three-year-old son of her boyfriend. Laidley says the boy had been jumping off a couch, slipped and banged his head on a marble coffee table. But police arrested her after Smith told them that injuries like that cannot cause death. The charge was abruptly stayed when outside experts testified that the injuries were fully consistent with the Laidley’s account.
William Mullins-Johnson was found guilty after a two and half week trial in September 1994, of the first-degree murder of Valin Johnson of Sault Ste. Marie. He was convicted after a jury trial in which Dr. Smith’s evidence played a major role in determining the time of death, the cause of death and whether the girl had been sexually assaulted. Mullins-Johnson had babysat Valin, 4, and her 3-year-old brother on the evening of June 26, 1993. When the girl's mother returned home, she did not check on her daughter. At 7 a.m. the next day she found Valin dead in bed.
A local pathologist performed an autopsy on Valin. Then "consultation reports" were sought from Smith and four other specialists, based on tissue samples and other evidence from the autopsy. Smith was the only consultant to conclude Valin was sexually assaulted at the time of death. That contradicted the defence's point that Valin, who had a history of vomiting in bed, might have died of natural causes. The jury convicted, which the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld 1996, and the Supreme Court dismissed a further appeal in 1998.
Attempts were made to clear his name based on available DNA technology, but the tissue could not be located by Smith, who was given the evidence by the pathologist who did the autopsy, until 2005, 11 years after the trial, when the missing tissue samples turned up in Dr. Smith’s office. William Mullins-Johnson was released on bail in 2006, pending review of his case. On July 16th, 2007, a report by three expert pathologists determined there was no evidence that the girl was sexually assaulted, and the Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant, said that Mr. Mullins-Johnson's conviction “cannot stand” and that he should be acquitted by the appeals court. On October 15, 2007 he was acquitted by the Ontario Court of Appeals.
On the morning of January 23rd 1996, Sherry Sherret found her four month old son Joshua lying in his bed not breathing. He was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Three and a half years later she was given the option to accept a plea of infanticide. She was convicted of infanticide without offering a defence (but offering no admission of guilt) in a plea (the delay was primarily attributable to Dr. Smith's unavailability to testify). Sherret was jailed on the basis of Smith's opinion that her four-month-old son Joshua had a skull fracture, and that he had been smothered. She was released on bail in 1996 and remained on bail until the conviction, Sherret's sentence was 1 year in jail and 2 years probation. Sherret served 8 months in total, and was entered into the child abuse registry. Her older child was removed by Children's Aid, and in order to get him out of foster care, she agreed to give him up for adoption and have no physical contact with him until he was 18.
In a new relationship, she got pregnant, as was only allowed to have contact with her baby if she was supervised. In 2006 Joshua was exhumed and re-autopsied; the report concluded that there had been no skull fracture and the marks on Joshua's neck had been caused by Dr. Smith himself during the autopsy, and that the cause of death was almost certainly a comforter bunching around his head. Children's Aid has removed the conditions on her.
Brenda Waudby of Peterborough was charged with beating her 2-year-old daughter Jenna to death on Jan. 22, 1997, on the basis of Smith's professional opinion as to what time the injuries were inflicted. The charge was dropped on June 15, 1999, when a prosecutor cited "certain medical evidence that has shifted dramatically:" five other medical experts said the toddler's injuries were inflicted on the evening of her death, when she was in the care of a 14-year-old boy. A crucial piece of evidence, a strand of pubic-like hair found on the body, went missing; it was eventually found in an envelope on Dr. Smith’s desk, where it had apparently sat for five years.
Anthony Kporwodu and Angela Veno, were charged in 1997 with murdering their infant son. Dr. Smith took more than seven months to prepare his initial autopsy report. The charges were ultimately thrown out by a judge for violating the constitutional right to a timely trial.
Louise Reynolds was a 28 year old single mother living in Kingston, Ontario, charged with 2nd degree murder for having killed her seven-year old daughter Sharon in 1997 by stabbing her more than 80 times with a pair of scissors, “because she was angry at her for having head-lice.” Much of the case rested on Dr. Smith’s 10-page autopsy report. In January 2001 the Crown abruptly dropped the charges, after numerous experts, including Crown witnesses, disagreed with Smith and agreed that a powerful dog had mauled the girl (there was a pit-bull present in the house at the time). By then, Reynolds had spent three and a half years in jail awaiting trial.
Ms. Reynolds sued, and in March 2007 the court of appeals ruled in a ground-breaking decision that the suit against Dr. Smith and other experts can go ahead; while court testimony is protected, faulty work is not.
In 2002, Dr. Smith was reprimanded with a caution by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons for his work on three suspicious-death cases.
In July 2005 he resigned from Sick Children's Hospital to take up a position at Saskatoon City Hospital in Saskatchewan. In December 2005 he was dismissed. He won on appeal, but because he did not have a licence to practise in Saskatchewan, he was not re-instated. He currently resides in Victoria, British Columbia.
In June 2005, the Chief Coroner of Ontario ordered a review of 44 autopsies carried out by Dr. Smith, 13 of them in cases where there had been resulting criminal charges and convictions. The report was released in April 2007, indicating that there were substantial problems with 20 of the autopsies. In response, in April 2007, Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant announced that there would be a full public inquiry into the matter, the Goudge Inquiry, which got underway on November 12, 2007.
Other Pathology Scandals
Some feel that the case bears uncanny similarities to that of Professor Sir Samuel Roy Meadow (born 1933), a discredited former British paediatrician best known for his 1977 academic paper on Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP), in which parents are said to fabricate their child's illness, and his dictum that “one sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder, until proved otherwise“, which became known as Meadow's Law.
However, Meadow was, if the charges were correct, guilty of chasing what amounted to a crackpot theory; Smith, if the charges are correct, was guilty of shoddy work and an "always guilty" approach.
Another recent pathology scandal has been the Alder Hey organs scandal, circa 1996.