The ranks of the wrongly convicted grew by one Monday as an Ontario woman who served a year in jail for the death of her baby boy was acquitted of infanticide by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
After hearing a joint submission in favour of Sherry Sherrett-Robinson by the Crown and defence, the court told the 34-year-old woman it was "profoundly regrettable" that she was wrongly convicted based on errors by Charles Smith, who was once the toast of the pathology community.
"The tragedy of this four-month-old child's death is compounded by the fact that his mother was wrongly convicted of infanticide, served a year in jail, and she lost her other child," Mr. Justice Marc Rosenberg said.
Ms. Sherrett-Robinson was convicted in 1999 after Dr. Smith testified that he found signs consistent with homicide on the body of her four-month-old son, Joshua Sherrett.
James Lockyer, a lawyer for the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, told the court Monday that all four of Dr. Smith's suspicious findings - a skull fracture, swelling of the brain, burst blood vessels and small, unexpected lacerations - were either normal in accidental asphyxiation cases or caused by Dr. Smith's autopsy techniques.
"It's a pretty classic Dr. Smith problem," Mr. Lockyer said. "He misdiagnoses, over-diagnoses and turns natural deaths into homicides."
Six months pregnant with her fourth child, Ms. Sherrett-Robinson said Monday that she often thinks of her dead son: "I go to his grave quite a bit and tell him I still love him," she told reporters. "I've had my fair share of emotional moments. Right now, I'm just glad that it's over with. I want to get on with my life."
She said that her sole message for Dr. Smith is: "Stay as far away from me as you can. He's not even in the back of my mind."
The case was one of about 20 that came into serious question after it became known that Dr. Smith was prone to making careless or inept observations and conclusions at the autopsies of children who had died in unusual circumstances.
Crown counsel Riun Shandler told the court yesterday that the case against Ms. Sherrett-Robinson was no longer sustainable. "In absence of a clear cause of death and expert evidence … it is not in the interest of justice to maintain this conviction," he said. "Ms. Sherrett-Robinson is entitled to an acquittal."
Judge Rosenberg said that, based on a review by two prominent pathologists, it is quite possible that Joshua suffocated in his crib after becoming entangled in bedclothes.
Ms. Sherrett-Robinson's eldest son, Austin, was seized and put up for adoption after she was charged. She is not permitted to seek him out until he is 18.
"I still get pictures and letters twice a year from him," she said. "I'd give anything to get him back, but it's my responsibility as a mother to leave him where he is most comfortable at this point. He is well taken care of."
One of the most jolting aspects of the case was that Ms. Sherrett-Robinson felt compelled to accept a one-year jail sentence to avoid ending up in prison for life. Mr. Lockyer said that his client had little option, considering she would have faced life imprisonment if convicted of the original charge of second-degree murder.