Aformer pathologist whose work is at the centre of an Ontario inquiryacknowledged Monday that he made a "number of mistakes" during his 20 years of conducting autopsies.
'Dr. Smith wishes to emphasize that any such mistakes were made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations in which he was involved.' —Dr. Charles Smith's lawyer
A judicial inquiry began in Toronto on Monday morning into the work of Dr. Charles Smith, who was once considered a leading expert inpediatric forensics in Ontario and worked at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children for 24 years. His conclusions in 20 cases involving child deaths have beenquestioned.
Smith was not present on the first day of the inquiry led by Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Stephen Goudge, but his lawyer, Niels Ortved,read a statement from the former pathologist.
"Dr. Smith sincerely regrets these mistakes and apologizes to all who may have been affected by his errors. Dr. Smith wishes to emphasize that any such mistakes were made honestly and without any intention to harm or obstruct the pediatric death investigations in which he was involved," Ortved read.
"In retrospect, he understands that in some 20 cases which form the basis of this inquiry, his work, while to the best of his ability at the time, was simply not good enough in certain circumstances."
Review resulted in acquittal, new trials
The inquiry was called aftera formal review of45 of Smith's autopsies found he made questionable conclusions of foul play in 20 of the cases. Ofthose,12resulted in criminal convictions and one in a finding of not criminally responsible.
The inquiryis expected to spendthree months reviewing the conduct of Ontario's Office of the Chief Coronerand of pediatric forensics in the province. Goudge is to provide recommendations by April 2008.
Smith, who is not expected to testify until next year,conducted more than 1,000 child autopsies before he resigned from the Hospital for Sick Childrenin 2005.
Since hisautopsies were called into question, courts have been reviewing convictions that stemmed from his work.
On Nov. 8, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered new trials for Marco and Anisa Trotta of Oshawa, Ont., who were convicted in the death of their eight-month-old son. The Supreme Court ruled that fresh evidence "discredits" the key testimony Smith provided in their 1998 trial.
Marco Trotta was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years.
His wife was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide her child with the necessities of life.She was handeda five-year prison sentence.
Another man convicted after a Smith autopsy, William Mullins-Johnson of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was acquitted by the Ontario Court of Appeal in October, after spending 12 years in jail for first-degree murder in the death of his four-year-old niece.
The Appeal Court found fault with the testimony Smith had provided during Mullins-Johnson's original trial in 1994.
Acquitted man hopes Smith will face criminal charges
In an interview with CBC News, Mullins-Johnson said he hoped the inquiry would eventually lead toa criminal conviction for Smith or others involved in the errors that "destroyed" his life.
'He was insulated, from what I understand, not just from his own colleagues but from police, from Crowns, from everybody who seemed to insulate this guy for the sole purpose of convicting people…' —William Mullins-Johnson
"He was insulated, from what I understand, not just from his own colleagues but from police, from Crowns, from everybody who seemed to insulate this guy for the sole purpose of convicting people— not anyone specific, but just convicting people where[authorities] said 'There's a suspicious death here.'"
Neither Mullins-Johnson nor others affected by Smith's errorswill be able to make statementsat the inquiry.
"I understand it, but it's very disappointing and disheartening because it was us that got the brunt of this. It was us that had our lives ruined, that had our reputations destroyed in the eyes of, not just the public either, but our family and friends that may still have doubts about us. So this is a lifelong battle we're going to be facing."