Update: see previous post – November 8, 2010 The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted Foundation – Charitable Organization.
TORONTO — Ontario’s appeal court will be asked today to quash a woman’s 25-year-old manslaughter conviction in the death of her stepdaughter.
The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted will go before the court today to argue that Maria Shepherd’s 1992 conviction should be thrown out.
The group is supported by Ontario’s attorney general who agrees that Shepherd’s guilty plea and conviction should be struck and an acquittal entered.
Shepherd was implicated by disgraced pathologist Charles Smith in the death of her three-year-old stepdaughter Kasandra.
It was one of many suspicious child deaths in which Smith had done the autopsy.
A review of his work and subsequent public inquiry uncovered numerous examples where he made serious mistakes, and he was stripped of his medical licence in 2011.
Shepherd says she is looking forward to having another day in court today.
“It has been a very long wait. I hope today that the Court of Appeal will clear my name,” she said Sunday in a statement released by the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
In 1991, Kasandra Shepherd, of Brampton, Ont. began vomiting and became unresponsive. She died two days after being admitted to hospital. Smith concluded she died from trauma due to at least one blow of “significant force.”
Shepherd had told police she pushed the child once with her wrist and watch hitting the girl on the back of the head, but she said she didn’t believe the blow could have killed the child.
Her lawyer at the time consulted an outside expert who agreed Smith’s theory was reasonable and it prompted Shepherd to plead guilty to manslaughter.
The Crown now says the conviction should be set aside based on new forensic evidence. Experts have concluded Smith’s testimony at Shepherd’s court hearing contained a “number of significant errors.”
The theory is that Kasandra may have had a previous brain injury that caused seizures or that she suddenly developed a seizure disorder that led to her death.
April 11, 1991: Kasandra Shepherd, 3, dies in hospital, two days after she began repeatedly vomiting and losing consciousness.
April 24, 1991: After Dr. Charles Smith conducts an autopsy and concludes the cause of death was cranio-cerebral trauma as a result of abuse, Kasandra’s step-mother, 21-year-old Maria Shepherd, is charged with manslaughter.
October 1992: Shepherd first pleads not guilty to manslaughter, then changes her plea to guilty after her lawyer warns her that forensic pathologist Dr. Smith is “the best of the best.” She is sentenced to two years less a day in jail.
March 18, 1992: Kasandra’s family doctor is arrested and charged with obstructing justice for telling police that bruises on Kasandra could have been the result of a blood disorder. The case was thrown out before trial.
June 21, 1993: Shepherd is granted parole, and immediately begins proceedings to regain custody of her children (she was awarded full custody in 1995). Soon after her release, she begins working as a paralegal.
November 1997: A coroner’s inquest into Kasandra’s death calls for a massive overhaul of Ontario’s child protection system. The jury made 73 recommendations aimed at preventing and detecting child abuse to avoid future deaths.
November 2005: After mounting criticism of Smith’s work, Ontario’s Chief coroner takes the unprecedented step of calling for the review of more than 40 of his child death cases.
April, 2007: The review finds that Smith had made questionable findings in 20 cases dating back to 1991. Twelve of those cases resulted in criminal convictions. His errors included bungling autopsies, misdiagnosing causes of death and overselling his expertise.
December 2007: An inquiry led by Ontario Court of Appeal Judge Stephen Goudge, examining pediatric forensic pathology, begins in Toronto.
October 2008: Goudge releases an in-depth report, making 169 recommendations “necessary to restore and enhance public confidence in pediatric forensic pathology.” He found Smith was “arrogant” despite lacking basic knowledge about forensic pathology, provided erroneous opinions and made false and misleading statements in court.
May 2009: Ontario Court of Appeal allows Shepherd to appeal her conviction.
Febr. 2, 2011: Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons strips Smith of his licence to practise medicine in Ontario, finding he was incompetent and had committed professional misconduct. The move was more symbolic than practical, since Smith had allowed his licence to expire.
February 2016: The Attorney General of Ontario recommends in court documents that Shepherd’s guilty plea and conviction should be struck and an acquittal entered, calling Smith’s evidence “fundamentally flawed.”