Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Smith performed autopsies long after asking leave

Dr. Charles Smith

Dr. Charles Smith

Updated: Tue Nov. 13 2007 12:14:03

The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Discredited former pathologist Dr. Charles Smith was still performing autopsies for Ontario's chief coroner a year after he asked to be excused from those duties, a public inquiry heard Tuesday.

Smith, at one time a leading pediatric forensic expert in Canada whose work has since come under a cloud of suspicion, wrote in January 2001 to then-chief coroner Dr. James Young asking to be excused from performing all coroner's autopsies.

The letter, which also asked Young to arrange an external review of Smith's work, came after charges against Louise, accused in the 1997 death of her seven-year-old daughter, were dropped.

Smith concluded that Louise stabbed her daughter Sharon 80 times with a pair of scissors, but the charges were withdrawn after other pathologists concluded the girl was mauled by a dog.

In 2002, a year following the letter, Smith was still performing autopsies -- but not in homicide or "criminally suspicious'' cases, former Ontario chief coroner Dr. Barry McLellan said Tuesday.

However, Smith did perform one ''criminally suspicious'' case involving dehydration following his letter, McLellan said.

"The autopsy was done under circumstances where, as I understand it, another pediatric pathologist could not be found at the time,'' McLellan said.

"It was felt appropriate after that the case be reviewed and I assisted with identifying someone to review the case and, at my request, the case was reviewed.''

However, that case was not among 20 of the 45 child death cases Smith had handled since 1991 which came under question by an expert panel. Of those 20 cases, 12 resulted in criminal convictions, while one ended with a finding of not criminally responsible.

The panel's findings, which raised serious doubts about opinions given by Smith, prompted the province to call the public inquiry to examine the role played by pediatric forensic pathology in the criminal justice system since 1981.

Smith, who has managed to remain out of the public eye since the expert panel made its conclusions, surprised the inquiry Monday by offering an apology for the "mistakes'' he made over two decades performing autopsies on children -- findings which led the courts to toss out one conviction and a number of criminal charges.

In a statement read by his lawyer, Smith acknowledged that he made a number of mistakes, but that they were made without any intention of obstructing the investigations in which he was involved.

The public hearings began Monday with an expert panel and are expected to take about three months, with Smith due to testify in late January.

Tuesday's hearing focused on the testimony of McLellan and Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario's chief forensic pathologist.

Led by Justice Stephen Goudge, the inquiry is expected to report his findings and make recommendations on restoring confidence in the pediatric forensic system in April.