As part of an ongoing look into the troubled state of death investigation, ProPublica, PBS "Frontline" and NPR identified nearly two dozen cases in the U.S. and Canada in which people have been accused of killing children based on flawed or biased work by forensic pathologists and then later cleared. These are summaries of the cases. (Jump to the Canadian Cases.) | Related Story: The Hardest Cases: When Children Die, Justice Can Be Elusive
Update (July 29): In response to our investigation with NPR and PBS FRONTLINE, an NPR listener wrote in to ask how we selected the 23 child cases we reported on. In response, ProPublica, with our partners, issued an explanation detailing how little data exists on child death cases and how we focused on those "cases in the U.S. and Canada where charges had been dropped before trial, or juries acquitted at trial, or judges overturned convictions after trial chiefly based on forensic pathology evidence." You can read our full explanation here.
Levon Brooks (ex-boyfriend of child's mother)
Original Autopsy Findings: Steven Hayne, a pathologist working for the state of Mississippi, called the death a homicide by drowning. He found evidence of sexual assault and marks that he confirmed with a consultant were from human bites. The consultant said the bite marks could have come from "no one but" Brooks.
Alternate Findings: Forensic pathologist Michael Baden, asked by the Innocence Project to review the case, said that there was no scientific basis for saying the marks were human bites and that such marks are often caused after death by decomposition or aquatic wildlife.
Case Details: The child's body was found in a pond. The bite-mark findings from Hayne's autopsy figured heavily in the January 1992 trial that led to Brooks' conviction and sentence of life in prison for capital murder. After 16 years Brooks was released in February 2008, when Justin Albert Johnson confessed to the attack. Johnson denied biting the victim. He has been charged with two counts of capital murder (he also confessed to another killing) and is being held pending trial.
Kennedy Brewer (boyfriend of child's mother)
Original Autopsy Findings: Steven Hayne, a pathologist working for the state of Mississippi, concluded the death was a homicide by strangling. He found signs of sexual assault and marks that he confirmed with a consultant were human bites. The consultant said the bite marks "without doubt" matched Brewer's teeth.
Alternate Findings: Forensic pathologist Michael Baden, asked by the Innocence Project to review the case, said the marks were common post-mortem effects from decomposition and wildlife in the water, not human bites.
Case Details: The child's body was found in a creek. Brewer, who had been babysitting, said the little girl disappeared from home while he was asleep. Though police initially suspected another man -- who 16 years later would confess to the crime -- Brewer was prosecuted based on the bite-mark findings. He spent three years in pretrial detention before being convicted on March 24, 1995, of capital murder. He was sentenced to death. In 2001, DNA testing showed that semen recovered from the child's body didn't match Brewer, and a year later his conviction was vacated. He remained incarcerated for five more years, pending a second trial. In February 2008, Justin Albert Johnson confessed to this attack as well as the one on Courtney Smith. Johnson was charged with two counts of capital murder and is being held pending trial. Brewer was exonerated.
May 11, 2006
Original Autopsy Findings: Steven Hayne, a pathologist working for the state of Mississippi, initially described the case as an accidental "rollover death/compression of chest." But after blood and urine tests, he later called the death a homicide by alcohol poisoning.
Alternate Findings: LeRoy Riddick, a forensic pathologist for the defense, questioned the toxicology results. That Kaddarius' alcohol levels rose from negligible to very high over successive tests indicated problems with how samples were handled, he argued. One lab report said a sample was contaminated. Riddick said tissue samples showed the child had died of "interstitial pneumonia and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)," probably from a virus.
Case Details: When he died, Kaddarius Douglas was on medication for breathing problems, prescribed days earlier at a clinic. The autopsy showed no mark of abuse, or visible evidence of alcohol poisoning, or any other sign of poor health besides a slightly enlarged heart. Hattie Douglas had no record of abuse.
Hattie Douglas said she'd fallen asleep with son Kaddarius on her chest and then woke up to find he wasn't breathing. Based on Hayne's finding of alcohol poisoning, she was charged with murder, jailed and barred from contact with her five other children. After Riddick raised questions about Hayne's work, prosecutors dropped the charge against Hattie Douglas in May 2008, citing a lack of evidence.
Ruth Ann Gilliam (mother)
March 20, 2002
Original Autopsy Findings: Patricia Moore, then an associate medical examiner for Harris County, Texas, concluded the death was a homicide by "positional asphyxia."
Alternate Findings: Chief Medical Examiner Luis Sanchez later reviewed Moore's work and revised the cause and manner of death to be "undetermined."
Case Details: In October 2002, Gilliam was charged with reckless injury to a child, punishable by 20 years in prison, for her infant son's death. She spent nine months in pretrial detention, losing custody of her other child, who was eventually adopted. In preparing for trial, a different medical examiner disagreed with Moore's work, and the office revised its conclusions. The case against Gilliam was dismissed in March 2004.
May 9, 1999
Original Autopsy Findings: Patricia Moore, then an associate medical examiner for Harris County, Texas, concluded the death was a homicide caused by "craniocerebral trauma."
Alternate Findings: In 2003, Chief Medical Examiner Luis Sanchez changed Moore's homicide and trauma conclusions to "undetermined." He found no sign of trauma, but rather evidence of sepsis from a urinary tract infection, a known breathing problem and brain death because of a hospital tubing error. During Briggs' final, successful appeal in June 2004, Moore told the Houston Chronicle that she stood by her conclusions.
Case Details: Briggs was charged with first-degree felony injury to a child after Moore ruled her son's death a homicide. On the eve of trial, Briggs pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, after her then-attorney said Briggs couldn't afford the medical experts to prove her innocence. She was sentenced to 17 years in prison and served nearly four before the autopsy conclusions were revised and an appeals court threw out her conviction.
John Peel Jr.
June 27, 1998
Original Autopsy Findings: Joan Wood, then the medical examiner of Pinellas and Pasco Counties in Florida, concluded the death was a homicide caused by "closed head injury-child abuse," evidenced by eye and brain bleeding.
Alternate Findings: Wood's successor, Jon Thogmartin, found no sign of eye bleeding and less brain bleeding than Wood had said. Thogmartin amended the autopsy report to say the evidence didn't support Wood's conclusions. After Peel's release, Wood told reporters in Florida that she stood by her findings.
Case Details: John Peel was charged the day after his son's death with first-degree murder. He and the infant's mother, then in their teens, said they'd fallen asleep with the baby in a twin bed and woke to find him on the tile floor. Peel pleaded no contest to a lesser manslaughter charge and served four of 10 years. His lawyer said Peel always maintained his innocence but took a plea deal to avoid a possible life sentence. A prosecutor asked a judge to throw out Peel's conviction and sentence based on the amended autopsy report. Peel was released Oct. 16, 2002.
7 1/2 months
March 7, 1998
Original Autopsy Findings: Marie Hansen, then an associate medical examiner working in Joan Wood's Pinellas County office, concluded the death was a homicide caused by "blunt traumatic head and neck injuries."
Alternate Findings: Wood's successor, Jon Thogmartin, found scant evidence of trauma. Instead, the infant's lungs showed "widespread" bronchial pneumonia. Thogmartin concluded the child hadn't been murdered and died naturally of the illness, complicated by being born three months premature. After Thogmartin's 2002 correction of her work, Hansen said, "In science, you always have to leave open the possibility that new information may show something different."
Case Details: David Long was the only adult home with daughter Rebecca when she stopped breathing. He was charged with first-degree murder, largely based on the autopsy findings. Law enforcement disagreed, saying the evidence didn't point to a crime. A month before trial, prosecutors asked the new medical examiner, Thogmartin, to take a second look. His revised report led authorities to drop the murder charge in April 2002.
(day care provider)
Original Autopsy Findings: DeKalb County Medical Examiner Gerald Gowitt called the death a homicide by "craniocerebral trauma." He found bruising on the scalp, bleeding in the brain and eyes, and a leg fracture. He also noted that the hospital had diagnosed child abuse. He testified in court that the injuries resulted from violent shaking or impact, although he eventually conceded that the leg wasn't fractured but rather injured in a hospital procedure. Though the infant had a history of sickle cell disease, Gowitt said there was no sign of the signature crescent-shaped cells.
Alternate Findings: Defense experts brought in by Ware's attorney for her second trial said the infant died from complications of sickle cell anemia, including infection and blood-clotting problems that caused the internal bleeding. They showed that slides taken during the autopsy were filled with sickle cells. The experts also testified that bruises on the child's scalp and his leg injury likely resulted from hospital procedures initiated to try to save Paige.
Case Details: In November 2005, Ware was convicted of murdering Paige and sentenced to life in prison. A year later, the court vacated her conviction and ordered a new trial, saying Ware had gotten inadequate representation and expert resources the first time. After a second trial in 2009, she was acquitted.
Almost 2 years
Dec. 7, 2008
Original Autopsy Findings: Paul Shrode, then the chief medical examiner of El Paso, concluded the death was a homicide caused by head and other trauma.
Alternate Findings: Forensic pathologist Karen Griest, brought in by the defense, concluded that the bruises on Jayceon Tyson indicated an active toddler, not abuse, and that Jayceon had died of a severe lung infection.
El Paso County commissioners fired Shrode months before Monea Tyson's trial, giving no explanation for their action. Shrode's former supervisor gave a sworn statement saying that the medical examiner had offered "unscientific" testimony in a 1997 Ohio trial that put a defendant on death row. Shrode also drew criticism for submitting misleading credentials when applying for his job in El Paso.
Case Details: Monea Tyson was the only adult at home when her son stopped breathing. The toddler died the next day in a hospital. Based largely on the autopsy findings, his mother was charged with capital murder. Unable to afford bail, she spent two years in pretrial detention and lost custody of two older children and a baby she gave birth to while locked up. A jury voted to acquit after a trial in November 2010. Earlier this year, Tyson regained custody of her three surviving children.
Kenneth Marsh (boyfriend of child's mother)
2 years, 9 months
Original Autopsy Findings: Roger Williams — a pathologist at the hospital where Phillip died — performed the autopsy for the San Diego County coroner. Other hospital staffers had diagnosed Phillip with child abuse. Williams concluded the death was a homicide caused by multiple head injuries.
Alternate Findings: In 2004 San Diego prosecutors hired a forensic pathologist to review the 1983 autopsy after defense experts had questioned it. The forensic pathologist said he couldn't be sure that there had been any abuse. He found Williams' autopsy methods had been inadequate and said some of Williams' trial testimony didn't jibe with anatomical science.
Case Details: Kenneth Marsh, home watching Phillip at the time, said the child fell and hit his head on a brick hearth. Phillip died a day later in the hospital. Police believed the death was an accident. But based on medical opinions, including Williams' autopsy, Marsh was charged with murder. He was convicted on Nov. 28, 1983. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Marsh, supported by Phillip's mother, pursued appeals claiming his trial lawyer had failed to investigate the case properly — in particular, by failing to present expert evidence showing that the child had a bleeding disorder and that questionable hospital care worsened his injuries. Eventually prosecutors decided to review the autopsy and other evidence. In September 2004 — 20 years into Marsh's sentence — they asked a judge to dismiss the case.
(day care provider)
Oct. 16, 1995
Original Autopsy Findings: Robert Huntington, then a forensic pathologist at University of Wisconsin-Madison, conducted the autopsy for Dane County. He found swelling and bleeding of the brain and bleeding in the eyes. He concluded that the death was a homicide by shaking. He testified in court that the abuse must have occurred almost immediately before the infant's collapse.
Alternate Findings:More than a decade later, Huntington changed his opinion about the immediacy of the abuse, which was crucial in the prosecution of Audrey Edmunds. He explained that shifts in the theory of shaken baby syndrome and his own experience after the Beard autopsy had changed his mind.
Case Details: Edmunds said she had found the infant unresponsive after leaving her for half an hour with a bottle. She called 911, and the child died that night in a hospital. Based largely on medical testimony that the autopsy findings could only have resulted from violent shaking immediately before the child's collapse, Edmunds was convicted of first-degree reckless homicide and sentenced to 18 years. After court challenges presenting medical evidence that the child had been ill or had been injured before she entered Edmunds' care, her conviction was vacated in January 2008.
Sources: Autopsy reports, judicial opinions, interviews, St. Petersburg Times, Houston Chronicle, the Innocence Project.
Dr. Charles Randal Smith was a pediatric pathologist at Toronto's world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children. For 24 years, he performed autopsies. Although he didn't have formal training in forensics, he became the expert witness in criminal cases against parents and caretakers charged with killing their children.
But by 2005, other forensic pathologists began to question Dr. Smith's findings. At the behest of the Ontario attorney general, Justice Stephen Goudge led an investigation into child death cases handled from 1981 to 2001. The Goudge Inquiry found 20 cases in which reviewers disagreed with Smith's findings or courtroom testimony.
So far, in 12 cases, courts have concluded that defendants were wrongfully charged or imprisoned (other cases are still being reviewed). They are:
Shelly M. (neighbor and 12-year-old babysitter); publication ban on name
Case Details: Shelly M. said Amber fell down the stairs by accident. On Dec. 15, 1988, the police charged the 12-year-old babysitter with manslaughter. Her trial spanned 30 days over 13 months. On July 25, 1991, Ontario Justice Patrick Dunn acquitted her.
In a 75-page judgment, Justice Dunn criticized Dr. Smith's methodology at length — offering criteria that could have guided future cases. But it fell off the radar. Chief Coroner James Young maintained that he didn't even know of the 1991 decision until the lead up to the Goudge Inquiry.
Mother of Baby F. age 18; publication ban on name
Nov. 28, 1996
Case Details: On Nov. 30, 1996, police discovered Baby F.'s body wrapped in plastic bags in her mother's bedroom closet. On March 19, 1998, Baby F.'s mother was charged with infanticide. She pleaded guilty before Judge Roland Harris and received a two-month conditional sentence to be served at home, probation for three years, and 150 hours of community service. On Oct. 24, 2006, Baby F.'s mother received a pardon for the conviction. On Oct. 20, 2010, the Ontario Court of Appeals set aside the conviction and ordered a new trial. On March 9 2011, the Crown, the prosecution in Canadian courts, withdrew all charges against her.
The teenager claimed she didn't know she was pregnant and thought she was having a bowel movement when she gave birth to the baby in her parents' bathroom. She wrote to the Ontario Court of Appeal. "I could not remember what really happened and was faced with police and pathologists who seemed sure that my baby's death was infanticide."
Nov. 18, 1992
Case Details: On April 22, 1993, Ontario police charged Richard Brant with manslaughter and failure to "provide the necessaries of life." On April 21, 1995, Richard pleaded not guilty to manslaughter but guilty to a charge of aggravated assault. He received a 6-month sentence. The Crown and defense agreed on an acquittal, which was granted on May 4, 2011.
Richard Brant said he was about to show Dustin off to a cousin when he found the baby lifeless in his stroller, with thick red foam around his nose. Brant screamed for help. Two women performed CPR, to no avail. Brant said he pleaded guilty to the assault charge because his lawyer said Dr. Smith was infallible, the "god" of his profession. Brant's then-pregnant wife added that, by pleading guilty, he could still raise his next newborn child.
March 20, 1992
Case Details: On June 26, 1992, Dinesh Kumar was charged with second-degree murder. On Dec. 3, 1992, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminal negligence causing death. He was sentenced to 90 days in custody, served on weekends, and two years probation. On Jan. 20, 2011, after both the Crown and defense called for the conviction to be set aside, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned it.
Dinesh Kumar said Gaurov gasped and went limp in his arms. He said he pleaded guilty under threat of deportation to India and separation from his surviving family. Gaurov's older brother was taken by the Children's Aid Society for several months.
Brenda Waudby (mother)
Case Details: Jenna died from a beating. Her mother was the first suspect. On June 11, 1999, Brenda Waudby pleaded guilty to child abuse. She was sentenced to two years probation. Days later, after several experts agreed that the baby was not in Waudby’s care during her death, the Crown withdrew its second-degree murder charge. After police began a reinvestigation, Jenna’s babysitter confessed to punching, poking and burning the baby to the point of death. In December 2006 he pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He received 22 months in prison and 11 months community supervision, and was released in 2008. In December 2010 the Crown agreed to allow Waudby to appeal her conviction.
During the case, Waudby custody of lost her older daughter, Justine Traynor, for two years. In April 2010, Ontario's Criminal Injuries Compensation Board denied the family any monetary compensation. Waudby is appealing that decision.
Sherry Sherrett-Robinson (mother)
Case Details: Sherret-Robinson said she found Joshua blue and not moving in bed. On March 27, 1996, the police charged her with first-degree murder. On Jan. 13, 1998, the judge committed her to stand trial. The charge was later changed to infanticide. She pleaded not guilty, yet offered no evidence apart from a psychiatric report. She feared no one would take her word over Dr. Smith's. She was convicted and sentenced on June 2, 1999, to one year in custody and two years probation. She served 8 months. Then experts found that, contrary to Smith's word, there was no skull fracture. Neck hemorrhages he reported were caused by his own autopsy. The Court of Appeal for Ontario reversed Sherret-Robinson's conviction on Dec. 7, 2009.
Sherret-Robinson's son Austin was taken into foster care days after Joshua's death. Two days before sentencing, she signed papers that released him for adoption. She can't see him until he is 18.
Tammy Marquardt (mother)
2 years, 5 months
Oct. 12, 1993
Case Details: Marquardt says that she heard Kenneth yell, "Mommy, Mommy" when she rushed to his crib and found him tangled in the sheets. The police charged Tammy with second-degree murder on Nov. 23, 1993. A jury convicted her on Oct. 24, 1995. She was sentenced to life in prison, ineligible for parole for 10 years. Tammy's conviction was overturned on Feb. 10, 2011, after she had served 14 years in prison. She was exonerated on June 7, 2011.
Tammy is now looking for her two sons, Keith and Eric. They were put up for adoption following her arrest.
Louise Reynolds (mother)
7 1/2 years
June 12, 1997
Case Details: Sharon's body was found in the basement with dozens of bloody wounds. On June 26, 1997, the police charged Louise Reynolds with second-degree murder. She spent 22 months in pre-trial custody and as many months in a halfway house. On Jan. 25, 2001, with several experts' reports suggesting that a dog killed Sharon, the Crown dropped the second-degree murder charge against Louise.
Louise lost custody of another daughter during the case. Represented by lawyer Peter Wardle, she settled a lawsuit for an undisclosed amount on March 14, 2011, against Dr. Smith, the Province of Ontario and one other party.
Lanny and Laura (parents)
Case Details: Lanny and Laura maintain that they found Taylor dead in his cradle. On Nov. 30, 1996, both were charged with second-degree murder, criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessities of life. On June 30, 1997, the court discharged the couple on all counts for lack of evidence of motive, intent or opportunity to cause injury. The Crown filed a notice of appeal but ultimately abandoned it.
Maureen Laidley (father's girlfriend)
3 years, 11 months
Jan. 23, 1998
Case Details: Laidley said that Tyrell jumped off the couch and hit his head against her marble coffee table. Police charged her with second-degree murder. The charge was stayed on Jan. 22, 2001, on the eve of trial.
Upon completion of her case, Laidley began working to regain custody of her two children. For three years, she was not allowed to be alone with them.
William Mullins-Johnson (uncle)
Almost 4 years
Case Details: Mullins-Johnson was babysitting Valin when she was found dead in her bed. On June 27, 1993, police charged him with first-degree murder and aggravated sexual assault. On Sept. 21, 1994, after a two-and-a-half week trial, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, ineligible for parole for 25 years. In a surprise twist, investigators from the chief coroner's office found microscopic slides and tissue samples from Valin's autopsy in Dr. Smith's office. They helped to prove the baby was neither sexually assaulted nor murdered. The bruises were caused by Smith's own autopsy. On July 17, 2007, the minister of justice granted William's application for ministerial review. In April 2007, the attorney general of Ontario called for the acquittal of Mullins-Johnson. On Oct. 19, 2007, the Court of Appeal acquitted him of first-degree murder. He had served 12 years in prison.
Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley announced $4.25 million in compensation for Mullins-Johnson in October 2010.
Mother of Baby M.
Nov. 8, 1992
Case Details: Baby M's mother, then 21, said she never knew she was pregnant. Her parents found her lying on the bathroom floor, in a pool of blood, and a newborn baby in the toilet. A college student, she was charged that day with second-degree murder. She faced up to six years imprisonment. In July 1994, she pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of manslaughter. She received a suspended sentence, three years' probation and 300 hours of community service. On Oct. 20, 2010, the Ontario Court of Appeals set aside the conviction and ordered a new trial.
Sources: Goudge Inquiry, interviews, The Charles Smith Blog, CNEWS, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail.