OSHAWA, Ont. – An Ontario mother was finally vindicated Tuesday in the murder of her toddler son, nearly two decades since his death and after spending more than 13 years in prison largely based on the faulty testimony of discredited pathologist Charles Smith.
"I’m free. I am free," said a visibly shaken Tammy Marquardt outside the Oshawa courthouse shortly after a second-degree murder charge against her was withdrawn.
Despite a tattoo she got on her arm of the word "freedom," she said she never believed her name would ever be cleared.
"Honestly I never thought I would see this day," said Marquardt. "I thought there is no justice. They are going to believe him (Smith) and they’re not going to believe someone like me."
Earlier, the Crown told Ontario Justice Michael Brown that it did not wish to proceed with a new trial against the 38-year-old due to fresh evidence that shows the cause of death to be inconclusive.
In 1995, at the age of 21, Marquardt was sentenced to life in prison for the sudden death of her son Kenneth Wynne, 2 1/2.
Smith, the Crown’s star witness at the time, concluded from the boy’s autopsy that he had died from "asphyxia" through strangulation or smothering.
New expert evidence since then has provided alternative theories, including the possibility the epileptic toddler’s sudden death was brought on by his condition.
As a result of her incarceration, she lost custody of two other young sons who were put up for adoption. She said she and her fiance Rick hope to reconnect with the boys, who are now teenagers, and move on with their lives and be good parents to their nine-month-old baby, Tiffany.
"My nightmare is finally over," said Marquardt, clutching a photo of a smiling Kenneth. "The one thing that never should’ve happened has ended. Now Kenneth can finally rest in peace. It’s been too long."
In court, Marquardt sat composed during the hour-long proceedings but openly cried when her lawyer James Lockyer read aloud the transcript of the 911 call she had made when she found her son entangled in sheets in her bedroom and not breathing.
When emergency crews arrived at her Oshawa home that night in October 1993, they transferred the boy to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and immediately took her to the police station for questioning.
Lockyer said the police and everyone else involved in the case quickly concluded that Marquardt, then a young and inexperienced mother who had an unstable relationship with the boy’s father, had suffocated her own son in a fit of frustration.
"Tammy Marquardt was essentially an easy target," he told the court. "She was an easy target for Charles Smith and an easy target for the criminal justice system."
Marquardt has always maintained her innocence.
"She was convicted for a murder that did not happen," said Lockyer, who added that his client will be seeking compensation from the province.
Brown said it was his "deepest regret" that it took so long for Marquardt to be freed.
"Nothing I can say today will repair the damage that has been caused to you," he said. "Nothing I can say will bring back your son Kenneth for whom you still grieve. I wish my words could do that."
Brown added that he hoped Marquardt would be able to "pick up the pieces" of her life and learn to "live outside the shadow of criminal prosecution."
His last words to her were: "You are free to go now, ma’am."
Last February, Ontario’s highest court quashed Marquardt’s second-degree murder conviction and ordered a new trial. Prior to the introduction of new evidence, a previous appeal in 2005 was denied.
From the 1980s to the 2000s, Smith was a leading Canadian expert in pediatric forensics. He acted as a star witness in pathology for the Crown in hundreds of cases involving suspicious child deaths, despite having no formal accreditation or training.
In 2007, the Ontario chief coroner launched a two-year probe into Smith’s work and found major problems with 20 of the 44 autopsies the former doctor performed. Twelve of those cases had resulted in charges or convictions. To date, the Ontario Court of Appeal has overturned seven convictions connected to Smith’s faulty testimony.
At least six others are still waiting to be heard by the courts. According to the provincial government, it has paid $5.5 million in compensation to nearly 30 people wrongly charged or convicted based on Smith’s faulty evidence.
Earlier this year, Ontario’s medical regulatory body handed down its harshest sentence by stripping Smith of his medical licence. He reportedly lives in Victoria.