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

  • Italian far-right leader's alliance leading vote: exit poll

    World News CTV News
    ROME - Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni’s electoral alliance appeared to hold a wide lead in Italy’s national vote, an exit poll on state television suggested Sunday evening following a record-low turnout. Rai state broadcaster said Meloni’s Brothers of Italy in alliance with two right-wing parties appeared headed to take 45 per cent of the vote in both chambers of Parliament. Source
  • Giorgia Meloni's far-right alliance leads in Italian elections

    World News CTV News
    ROME - Riding a meteoric rise, Giorgia Meloni with her nationalist party appeared well positioned to give Italy its first far-right-led government since the Second World War, according to projections based on a partial vote count Monday from elections for Parliament. Source
  • Judge rejects injunction request of 5 Western University students to block COVID booster mandate

    Canada News CBC News
    A court injunction filed by five Western University students to block the London, Ont., institution's COVID-19 booster shot mandate has been rejected by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, according to court documents. In a written decision, Justice Kelly Tranquilli stated that as an independent, autonomous, and self-governing institution, Western can govern its affairs separate from the province, and collecting personal health data from staff and students is its way of implementing the…
  • Black Canadian talent to be celebrated at Sunday's inaugural Legacy Awards

    Canada News CBC News
    A new awards show highlighting the achievements of Black Canadian talent will launch on Sunday night. The inaugural Legacy Awards are the country's first all-Black awards ceremony. The 90-minute live show, which will celebrate accomplishments in film, television, music, sports and culture, is set to feature emerging and established Black Canadian talent. Source
  • Fiona's trajectory, power and precipitation — illustrated in graphics

    Canada News CBC News
    Hundreds of thousands of people in the Maritimes remained without power Sunday following post-tropical storm Fiona, which brought fierce gusts of wind, heavy rain and serious infrastructure damage across Atlantic Canada. After surging north from the Caribbean, Fiona came ashore before dawn Saturday as a post-tropical cyclone, battering Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Quebec with hurricane-strength winds, heavy rains and huge waves. Source
  • Mexican army's role in students' disappearance

    World News CTV News
    MEXICO CITY - The Mexican army's role in the disappearance of 43 college students, its participation in covering up the facts and its alleged links to organized crime are now at the centre of a case that has shaken the nation. Source
  • Ukraine receives U.S. air defence system

    World News CTV News
    President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that Ukraine had received sophisticated air defence systems from the United States. It was the first acknowledgment that Ukraine had received the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), long sought by Kyiv and whose shipment was approved by Washington late last month. Source
  • Search underway for missing N.L. woman reportedly swept out to sea

    Canada News CTV News
    A search is underway in southwestern Newfoundland for a woman who was reportedly swept out to sea after a wave struck her home during post-tropical storm Fiona. Newfoundland RCMP say the 73-year-old woman was displaced from her residence yesterday morning as Hurricane Fiona struck the town of Port aux Basques at around 10 a.m. Source
  • Body of missing woman reportedly swept out to sea in N.L. recovered: RCMP

    Canada News CTV News
    The body of a missing 73-year-old woman has been recovered after police in Newfoundland received a report she had been swept out to sea after a wave struck her home during post-tropical storm Fiona. RCMP officers located the woman's body in the water shortly before 4 p.m. Source
  • N.S. announces comfort centre locations after extensive damage from Fiona

    Canada News CTV News
    As Maritimers assess the damage left behind from post-tropical storm Fiona, a number of comfort centres have been made available for residents to get food and water, recharge devices and receive up-to-date information. Here is a list of the comfort centre locations announced so far. Source