BY KEITH LACEY
The case of a Sudbury woman wrongfully accused of killing her baby is one of 44 that will be reviewed by the Chief Coroner of Ontario?s office.
Tuesday?s announcement that four pathologists from outside Ontario have agreed to look at 44 criminally suspicious homicide cases where Dr. Charles Smith conducted autopsies or provided opinions, pleases Lianne Thibeault and her family. The family spent more than $100,000 on lawyers to clear her name.
Smith worked for Ontario?s chief coroner?s office for 15 years. His evidence to police and testimony at dozens of trials influenced in large part convictions being registered against many parents accused of abusing their children.
Thibeault was wrongfully accused of murdering her 11-month-old son Nicholas. Smith claimed the boy died as a result of blunt force trauma. Even after police cleared Thibeault of any wrongdoing, Smith exerted his power and influence to have the body exhumed for an autopsy.
Thibeault was cleared when an American pathologist reviewed the evidence and concluded there was no evidence to back Smith?s findings.
Dr. Barry McLellan, Chief Coroner of Ontario, said he expects the ?open review? to take about 12 months.
The first 10 cases involve people who remain in jail or have served time and been released in cases involving Smith. One of the cases to be reviewed will be that of William (Billy) Mullins-Johnson, the 35-year-old Sault Ste. Marie man who has spent 12 years behind bars since being convicted of raping and murdering his four-year-old niece in 1994.
Mullins-Johnson was released on bail in late September. He has maintained his innocence and a report by Ontario?s chief forensic pathologist concluded his niece was never sexually assaulted and likely died of natural causes.
Smith resigned from Sick Children?s Hospital in Toronto in July.
If the doctors conclude scientific evidence under review indicates they disagree with Smith?s findings, Crown attorneys and defence lawyers will be contacted immediately to conduct reviews of cases, said McLellan.
In June, McLellan called for the review of all criminally suspicious and homicide cases involving Smith dating back to 1991.
His office has identified 44 cases dating back to 1991, when the Pediatric Forensic Pathology Unit first opened, and another case from 1988, said
Materials to be reviewed include Smith?s autopsy reports, coroner?s warrant, other autopsy or consultation reports, photographs from the autopsy and death scene, police reports and court transcripts.
McLellan said he regrets the fact some families who may have been brought or been in the process of bringing closure to the death of their child may be distressed as a result of the review proces.
Thibeault?s father Maurice Gagnon, said he was confident his daughter?s case would be reviewed.
?We remain very confident this review will come to the obvious conclusion that Dr. Smith was wrong,? he said. ?We thought the entire review process would take about two years and hearing it might only take a year is good news...the sooner the better.?
It?s his ?strong hope? the group of pathologists not only make clear rulings on Smith?s controversial scientific evidence, but make suggestions about never again allowing one doctor to have so much power and influence, he said.
?I know these doctors will be looking at scientific evidence, but I hope they can identify deficiencies in the entire system,? he said. ?One of the questions that must be answered is how did this one doctor...have the power to make such important decisions on all pediatric death cases in
?A public inquiry is the only way to determine what happened and make sure it never happens again,? he said.