TORONTO, Canada — When Canadians think of a parent’s worst nightmare, many think of Tammy Marquardt.
She spent 13 years in prison, convicted of killing her 2-year-old son. Last month, an Ontario judge freed her, acknowledging a gross miscarriage of justice.
“Ms. Marquardt, nothing I can say to you today will repair the damage that has been caused to you,” Justice Michael Brown told her.
“I can't imagine what it must have been like for you to have had to bear the burden of not only losing your child, Kenneth, but also to have had to deal with being convicted of killing your son, and spending 13 years in prison as a result,” he added.
Marquardt, 38, stepped out of the courtroom and faced reporters: “I am free,” she said, pausing with emotion after every word. “Now, Kenneth can rest in peace.”
Marquardt is one of 13 people convicted on the findings of Dr. Charles Smith, once the most esteemed forensic child pathologist in Canada. Most of those cases resulted in parents wrongfully convicted of killing their children.
The scandal has been shocking Canadians since at least 2005, when a medical review in Ontario found that Smith made gross errors in autopsies he preformed on 20 children. Nine people so far have had criminal charges withdrawn or convictions quashed, and more cases are being reviewed by the courts.
The saga is an indictment of a justice system and an Ontario coroner’s office too willing to accept the conclusions of a doctor who, according to a government-appointed inquiry, “lacked basic knowledge in forensic pathology.” The inquiry also found he gave false or misleading testimony when called by government prosecutors as an expert witness.
Smith has said he was driven by a desire to protect children. Some speculate his personal history played a role. He was put up for adoption three months after being born in a Toronto Salvation Army hospital. When he tracked down his biological mother decades later, she refused to see him.
He worked at Toronto’s renowned Hospital for Sick Children and was regularly used by the coroner’s office to investigate suspicious deaths. In Marquardt’s case, he concluded her son was suffocated or strangled to death. Authorities placed her two other sons for adoption when she was charged with murder.
A decade later, when Smith’s autopsies were reviewed, two forensic pathologists concluded Marquardt’s son — an epileptic who suffered regular seizures — died as a result of his condition.
In January, Dinesh Kumar’s 1992 conviction for murdering his 5-week-old son was also rejected. Smith had concluded the baby had been shaken to death. But forensic experts in 2006 said the infant probably died of natural causes stemming from an injury sustained during birth.
Some speculate government prosecutors knew their case was weak because they offered Kumar, who was charged with second-degree murder, an unheard of deal — a 90-day jail sentence, served on weekends, if Kumar pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death. Kumar said he took the deal because his own lawyer warned him Smith was treated by the courts “like a God.”
Last October, William Mullins-Johnson received a $4.25 million settlement from the Ontario government for being wrongly convicted of sodomizing and murdering his 4-year-old niece. He spent 12 years in prison, where he became a drug addict.
Mullins-Johnson babysat his niece the night before she died. Smith concluded she was sodomized because her anus was dilated. Pathologists who reviewed the case years later found she died of natural causes. They noted it is well documented in medical literature that the anus can naturally dilate after death.
In another case, Brenda Waudby was charged with sexually assaulting and murdering her 21-month-old daughter. A pubic hair found on her daughter disappeared during Smith’s investigation of the case. It was discovered on his desk five years later. By then, a male babysitter had been convicted.
“I'm angry at the whole system,” said Waudby, who had another daughter taken from her by authorities due to the murder charge, “not just Dr. Smith.”
In February, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario finally revoked Smith’s medical license, calling his work “abominable.” But Smith has never been charged for ruining so many lives. He now lives in Victoria, British Columbia.
Ontario coroners Jim Cairns and James Young, who for years defended Smith and failed to detect his shoddy work, gave up their medical licenses but were never disciplined or investigated by the College of Physicians. And no one in the prosecutor’s office has been held accountable for repeatedly relying on Smith’s faulty work.
Writes Harold Levy, a journalist researching a book on the scandal: “The government would prefer that Charles Smith quickly fade from the public eye because each new case reminds the public how trusted state officials put grieving parents and caregivers in jail — and how cruel, unfair and unjust our justice system can be.”