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25 years after a woman pleaded guilty to killing her stepdaughter, the same woman has now been formally acquitted by an Ontario court of appeal.

In 1991, Maria Shepherd entered a plea of guilty to manslaughter based on evidence from Dr. Charles Smith – a now-disgraced pathologist.

At the time, Dr. Smith was considered to be an unassailable expert. However, a later review and public inquiry of his work found that he had made numerous errors in several cases, with some leading to wrongful convictions. He was stripped of his medical licence in 2011.

“I have raised my children being known as a baby killer, killing their sister,” Maria told CTV Toronto on Monday. “the authorities made it very clear that there was nobody else out there that was willing to challenge Smith because he was right.  He wasn’t wrong.  He was infallible.”

Maria told reporters she was relieved to finally have a chance to live with some degree of normalcy after being formally acquitted.

“As a family we are elated, but this didn’t come without 25 years of a lot of quiet tears and anguish at home,” she said from the steps of the courthouse.  “We get an opportunity now to have a life together,” she added.  Maria said she will now be able to spend time with her children and forthcoming grandchildren without restrictions or supervision.

Maria was sentenced to two years less a day in prison at the time of her guilty plea. She gave birth to her fourth child in prison.

Court documents about the original case, show that young Kasandra had been vomiting and became unresponsive in April 1991 after a period of ill health. She died two days after being admitted to hospital. Dr Smith concluded that Kasandra had died from trauma due to at least one blow of “significant force” to her head.

Maria, who was 21 at the time, told police she had pushed the girl once.  She admitted that her wrist and watch hit the girl on the head, however she insisted that she didn’t believe the blow could have killed her.

Maria told reporters on Monday that she pleaded guilty because everyone involved in the trial viewed Dr. Smith as a type of “god,” whose opinion was unquestionable.

However, Maria said she always knew she was innocent.

“I never did anything but care for Kasandra,” she said, with her husband and children standing in support behind her.

Forensic experts now believe that Kasandra may have had a previous brain injury, which may have caused seizures. They also believe that she may have suddenly developed a seizure disorder that could have killed her.


Image source: Getty Images

  • Correct process is an integral part of the justice system. Incorrect process can lead to devastating outcomes.

    Reply

  • It’s hard to say now though isn’t it. I believe evidence should be examined by two or more professionals.

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  • This is so sad, not enough investigating and to quick to point the finger.

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  • It’s awful hearing of convictions where the person found guilty is actually innocent. I hope this family can overcome the trauma this situation has created. Being known as a baby killer when innocent is absolutely unimaginable. Especially when it is your own baby

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  • such a tricky case. thats why you cannot and should not rely on just one person.

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  • There is so much anguish in this story. To hear her say she is looking forward to spending time with her children and grandchildren without restrictions nor supervision only scrapes the surface of the pain she has gone through.

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  • Goodness me. Surely an autopsy at the time would have determined what really happened. The woman can never get that time back

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  • There have been numerous cases for professional people making huge mistakes and the poor innocent people who suffer because of this. I would how many other people may have been affected through this Doctor’s negligent. I hope this lady can go forward with her life now known that it was not her fault.

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  • Poor woman! She admitted what she did, but it wasn’t certain that that was the cause of death. How they could they find her 100% guilty then? What a pity. She lost so much in her life! And nobody understood the pain she went through! :-(

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  • wow who knows what really happened though but if she truly was innocent, then she must feel so robbed!

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  • 25 years is a long time :( Glad she finally gets a chance to spend time with her family.

    Reply

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