The stories of innocent people convicted of heinous offences and imprisoned for decades are disturbing. The media in the United States reports hundreds of wrongful conviction cases over the past decade and Canada has not escaped the notoriety of these destructive jury and judicial mistakes. Who has not been stunned by the prison sentences served by innocent accused such as David Milgaard, Guy Paul Morin, Donald Marshall, Steven Truscott and Thomas Sophonow?
However, the aftermath of the probe into the actions of Ontario’s chief pediatric pathologist Dr. Charles Smith raises the stakes. The inquiry conducted by Mr. Justice Stephen Goudge determined that there were errors in 20 of the 45 autopsies conducted by Dr. Smith over a ten year period starting in the early 90’s, which resulted in innocent people being labelled as “child murderers”.
William Mullins-Johnson was one of Dr. Smith’s victims. He spent 12 years in prison for the rape and murder of his four year old niece. It was later established that the young girl died of natural causes. A second victim of Dr. Smith’s was a mother convicted of stabbing her seven year old daughter to death. The problem was that the child was not stabbed, but mauled by a dog.
Ontario’s premier has recently announced that 40 innocent victims of Dr. Smith’s expert evidence will receive compensation for the trauma they suffered.
How does financial compensation erase the stigma of imprisonment as a convicted child killer? How can money be fair compensation where children of alleged killers were put up for adoption because their parent had murdered a child? It seems wholly inadequate.
What can we do to prevent these terrible mistakes from ruining more lives? Are overly zealous prosecutors and police officers part of the problem?