Mom who pleaded guilty to toddler's death 25 years ago set for exoneration

TORONTO -- A woman implicated by disgraced pathologist Dr. Charles Smith in the death of her three-year-old stepdaughter is set for exoneration more than two decades after pleading guilty to manslaughter, The Canadian Press has learned.

See Full Article

Documents filed ahead of a court hearing next week show the attorney general agrees Maria Shepherd's guilty plea and conviction should be struck and an acquittal entered.

"Had the appellant and her lawyer known then what they know now, the plea would not have been entered," the Crown says in its factum.

"More importantly, the fresh medical evidence shows that Dr. Smith's evidence, which formed the foundation of the guilty plea, was fundamentally flawed."

The Shepherd case was one of many suspicious child deaths in which Smith, a renowned and highly regarded Toronto-based forensic pathologist, had done the autopsy. However, a review of his work starting in November 2005 and subsequent public inquiry uncovered numerous examples in which he had made egregious errors.

After an initial review turned up problems with Smith's findings in the Shepherd case, the Ontario Court of Appeal in May 2009 allowed her to appeal her conviction.

Kasandra Shepherd, of Brampton, Ont., who had been through a period of health problems, began vomiting and became unresponsive on a day in April 1991. She died two days later in hospital.

Smith, who was stripped of his medical licence in 2011, identified an injury on the back of the child's head and concluded she had died from trauma due to at least one blow of "substantial or major or significant force." He also said Shepherd's watch likely caused bleeding on the inside of the girl's scalp.

Shepherd, then 21, told police she had pushed the child once, her wrist and watch making contact with the back of the girl's head. However, she also insisted she didn't believe the blow could have killed the girl.

"He was the Crown's star witness and his reputation preceded him," her trial lawyer Thomas Wiley says of Smith's opinion in a 2013 affidavit. "I found his opinion to be compelling, and seemingly unassailable."

However, after Wiley consulted an outside expert, who agreed Smith's theory was reasonable, Shepherd pleaded guilty to manslaughter in October 1992.

"I remember the first day of the preliminary hearing when Dr. Smith walked into court," Shepherd says in an affidavit in December 2015. "It was like a superhero entered the room."

She was sentenced to two years less a day and gave birth to her fourth child in custody.

While the guilty plea was valid at the time, the Crown now says the conviction should be set aside based on new forensic evidence. Experts have now concluded Smith's testimony at Shepherd's preliminary hearing contained a "number of significant errors." The best guessing 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.

Either way, they agree, her death should have been classified as "undetermined."

"All the experts (now) agree that Dr. Smith's watch theory was wrong," the Crown now admits. "It is in the interests of justice that the conviction be set aside and, in the circumstances of this case, an acquittal be entered."

The case also led to an obstruction-of-justice prosecution of Shepherd's family doctor, who had said bruises on the girl could have been the result of a blood disorder. That case was thrown out before trial.

Shepherd, who is still married to Kasandra's father, did not return calls seeking comment.

"I did not cause Kasandra's death, and my conviction for doing so has haunted me ever since," she says in her affidavit.

Her lawyer, James Lockyer, refused to discuss the case pending next week's hearing before the Court of Appeal.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Hong Kong shuts down as Typhoon Hato sweeps past

    World News CTV News
    HONG KONG - A powerful typhoon barrelled into Hong Kong on Wednesday, forcing offices and schools to close and leaving flooded streets, shattered windows and hundreds of cancelled flights in its wake. Typhoon Hato came within 60 kilometres of Hong Kong, close enough to be considered a direct hit under Hong Kong's storm warning system. Source
  • Hong Kong shut down by most powerful storm to hit territory in 5 years

    World News CBC News
    A powerful typhoon barrelled into Hong Kong on Wednesday, forcing offices and schools to close and leaving flooded streets, shattered windows and hundreds of cancelled flights in its wake. Typhoon Hato came within 60 kilometres of Hong Kong, close enough to be considered a direct hit under Hong Kong's storm warning system. Source
  • Iran extends reach with fight for link to Mediterranean

    World News CTV News
    BEIRUT - Thousands of Iranian-backed fighters in Syria's central desert region are advancing east, bringing Tehran closer to its goal of securing a corridor from its border, through Iraq and all the way to the Mediterranean and providing it unhindered land access to its allies in Syria and Lebanon for the first time. Source
  • Protests turn unruly after Trump's speech in Phoenix

    World News CTV News
    PHOENIX -- A day of noisy but largely peaceful protests of U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech in Phoenix turned unruly as police fired pepper spray at crowds after someone apparently lobbed rocks and bottles at officers. Source
  • U.S. Navy 7th Fleet commander to be removed after accidents, officials say

    World News CTV News
    TOKYO - U.S. officials confirm the commander of the Navy's 7th Fleet will be removed after a series of warship accidents in the Pacific. One official said Wednesday that Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin was being removed due to the leadership's loss of confidence in his ability to command. Source
  • California dad to be sentenced for killing son after Disneyland trip

    World News CTV News
    ALHAMBRA, Calif. - A California father who admitted killing his 5-year-old son amid a bitter custody battle with his estranged wife is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday. Aramazd Andressian, Sr., 35, faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison after pleading guilty earlier this month to first-degree murder in the April death of his son, Aramazd Andressian, Jr. Source
  • Trump again signals he’ll pardon convicted Sheriff Joe Arpaio

    World News Toronto Sun
    PHOENIX — President Donald Trump on Tuesday again signalled his willingness to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s conviction for intentionally disobeying a judge’s order in an immigration case. But he told a downtown rally of supporters that he wouldn’t do it quite yet. Source
  • 'Hysterically screaming': dad of baby that died in house fire in Edmonton

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- Police say a house fire that killed a five-month old baby and left his 29-year-old mother clinging to life in an Edmonton hospital was deliberately set. Firefighters responded to the blaze in the two-storey home in the Windermere neighbourhood in southwest Edmonton just before 4 a.m. Source
  • Cambodian woman, 103, becomes U.S. citizen

    World News Toronto Sun
    LOS ANGELES — A 103-year-old Cambodian woman who survived starvation, suffering and war in her native land beamed and waved a tiny American flag on Tuesday as she became a United States citizen. Hong Inh was the oldest of more than 10,000 people who took the oath of allegiance in a cavernous room of the downtown Convention Center in Los Angeles. Source
  • North Korea photos suggest new solid-fuel missile designs

    World News CTV News
    TOKYO -- North Korea's state news agency has released photos of diagrams that show what appear to be the designs of one or possibly two new missiles. The diagrams were seen hanging on a wall behind leader Kim Jong Un during a visit to a plant that makes solid-fuel engines for the country's ballistic missile program. Source