Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ont. acts on two cases of parents convicted after questions about pathology raised

Apr. 24, 2007Get Medbroadcast Health News via RSS Feed

Provided by: The Canadian Press
Written by: TOBI COHEN

TORONTO -Ontario's chief prosecutor moved Tuesday to address the cases of two people who may have been wrongly convicted of killing their children based, in part, on questionable pathology work that is now the subject of a public inquiry.

Sherry Sherrett, who spent a year in prison for the 1996 death of her infant son, was given permission to take her case to the Ontario Court of Appeal amid mounting pressure from legal advocates and a new autopsy suggesting the four-month-old likely died of natural causes.

Sherrett's case was among 45 child autopsies reviewed by an expert panel after concerns were raised about Dr. Charles Smith, the pathologist who conducted them.

A review by the Ontario coroner's office questioned Smith's finding in 20 autopsies, 12 of which resulted in criminal convictions and one in a finding of not criminally responsible.

The province has called a public inquiry into the matter.

Attorney General Michael Bryant said officials wrote Sherrett's lawyer Tuesday to confirm that the government would allow her to appeal her conviction.

"From our perspective, it's crystal clear as to the Crown's position: We're here to act as expeditiously as possible, but there is a process to follow," Bryant said.

Bryant said the Crown has also agreed to support a bail application for Marco Trotta, who was convicted of second-degree murder in 1998 for the death of his infant son. Trotta is the only person convicted in part on Smith's evidence who is still behind bars.

Bryant said the Crown consented to Trotta's application for release while his case is appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Just in the last couple of hours, Crown counsel has consented to the defence application for bail. It'll ultimately be for the court to decide whether or not to release," he said.

"It's another example of the Crown responding as expeditiously as possible once defence file their papers."

Bryant said he would let people know Wednesday about any plans to compensate possible victims when he announces the terms of reference for the public inquiry and the name of the judge who will lead the investigation.

"We're very happy that the attorney general has decided to take action that we think is highly appropriate in the circumstances of these cases," said Paul Copeland, co-president of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. The consortium of lawyers has agreed to represent nine of the 13 people it alleges were unfairly prosecuted because of Smith's work.

Copeland suggested the scathing coroner's report and reaction to it has likely prompted the province to expedite the cases, but added he's not one to criticize the government when it's doing the right thing.

Should the province decide to compensate victims, he expects the one lawsuit currently before the courts and any subsequent ones that may be forthcoming against Smith won't proceed.

"If the province actually does an adequate job of compensating, I'm not so sure people are going to spend their time and energy chasing after Dr. Smith," Copeland said.