27
Jan
08

Stab Wounds Turned Out To Be Bites From Pit Bull

nationalpost.com
It was spring, 2000, and questions were mounting about Dr. Charles Smith’s evidence against Louise Reynolds, charged with stabbing to death her seven-year-old daughter.

Some lawyers and outside experts were becoming convinced that Sharon had, in fact, been mauled to death by a dog. Police in Kingston, though, had no such doubts, according to a confidential document released yesterday –against the force’s wishes.

Expressing “profound concern” about the faltering case, the lead detective urges prosecutors to push hard for a conviction, and complains that a judge hearing the trial was psychologically unhinged.

“Very informed sources indicate that … if the right people were informed of his mental instability, he would not be on the bench,” Detective-Sergeant Andy Bird says about Justice Tom Lally in the April, 2000, note.

“The potential for a mistrial at every bend in the road, with this man, is a very real possibility.”

The emotional memo also urges Ed Bradley, the Crown prosecutor who had just taken over the case, to “make no mistake, the right person (Louise) is on trial.”

The document appears to be a dramatic illustration of the influence Dr. Smith’s opinions had on police and others. Despite the officers’ faith in his findings, though, charges against Ms. Reynolds were dropped nine months later.

Kingston police fought in court last year to keep the document out of the public eye, but it was divulged for the first time yesterday at the inquiry looking into Dr. Smith’s conduct and the pediatric forensic pathology system generally in Ontario.

Even when the charge was withdrawn in the face of contradictory evidence from other experts, Kingston police continued to back the pathologist’s original viewpoint.

In 2001, Chief Bill Closs lamented that “well-respected” expert witnesses such as Dr. Smith failed to get “the protection and support they so well deserve.”

Testifying to the inquiry yesterday, Mr. Bradley emphasized that he had no concerns about Judge Lally’s conduct.

Ms. Reynolds was charged in June, 1997, with second-degree murder and held in jail for almost two years. Mr. Bradley and colleagues decided to withdraw the charge, though, in January, 2001.

When defence witnesses challenged Dr. Smith’s opinions, the Crown obtained another analysis from a U.S. expert, who backed the dog-bite theory.

International experts who reviewed Dr. Smith’s child-death investigations much later also said that he had wrongly diagnosed stab wounds, and concluded a pit bull had killed Sharon.

The same experts found that the head of Ontario’s pediatric forensic pathology unit had made serious errors in 20 of 45 suspicious child deaths he investigated between 1991 and 2001.

Prosecutors in Ms. Reynolds’ case and two others testified to the inquiry yesterday on how Dr. Smith’s evidence, crucial to charges being laid initially, eventually crumbled under the weight of contrary opinions.

Police in Kingston were not prepared to let the case go easily, however. In the 2000 memo, Det.-Sgt. Bird notes that the case had “taken its toll on all police officers involved,” saying they had worked countless 20-hour days for almost three years.

He worries in the note that an “air of animosity” between the prosecutors and police threatened to derail the case.

“Make no mistake, the right person (Louise) is on trial. If we want justice to be served and her found guilty, it is an absolute must that we get back on track and work toward this common goal.”

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