Friday, 8 February 2008

Pathologist testified in U.S. death penalty case, inquiry hears

Pathologist testified in U.S. death penalty case, inquiry hears

Tom Blackwell, National Post Published: Friday, February 08, 2008

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Lawyers at a public inquiry have raised startling new evidence about Dr. Charles Smith's activities, revealing that he testified in a 2000 murder case in the United States that resulted in conviction and a recommendation the accused be put to death.

Dr. Smith's gave pathological evidence at the Ohio trial of Christopher Fuller about asphyxia, the kind of testimony that has drawn severe criticism for the pathologist in Canadian cases.

Though the jury urged that Mr. Fuller be executed, the judge in the case imposed a sentence of life in prison.

A letter from John Holcomb, the prosecutor in the Ohio case, to Dr. Smith, raised at the inquiry today, praises the Ontario expert for his help on the Fuller file.

"I, along with my colleagues, found your work in this case to be truly outstanding," Mr. Holcomb wrote.

"I can well imagine that pediatric forensic pathology must rank amongst the most unpleasant fields of medicine in which to practice, but society is indeed fortunate that a man of your caliber has chosen to do so."

Although the letter was part of the 30,000 documents released to lawyers by the inquiry last fall, it was only just discovered last week by Julian Falconer, a lawyer for two native organizations.

Mr. Falconer and lawyers for the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted and for some of those prosecuted in Dr. Smith's discredited Ontario cases asked Justice Stephen Goudge, who is heading the inquiry, for permission to question Dr. James Young, former head of the Ontario chief coroner's office, about the Ohio case.

That an Ontario pathologist working for the coroner's office would participate in a death-penaly case, when capital punishment is illegal in Canada, is "to say the least disquieting," said Louis Sokolov, lawyer for AIDWYC.

Dr. Young was at the hearings today to reply to some earlier testimony about him.

However, Justice Goudge later ruled that lawyers could not questioned him about the U.S. case, saying it would not add substantially to evidence already before the inquiry.

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