Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Review wrongful prosecution

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A judge's finding that a murder charge against a father had so little basis in evidence that she wondered why it was even laid, let alone prosecuted, needs to be reviewed by authorities outside of Manitoba. At trial, even when presented with evidence supporting exoneration of Roderick Blacksmith, the prosecutor insisted on continuing the case. This is a blow to the confidence Manitobans need to have in the justice system.

Mr. Blacksmith was charged with second-degree murder after his foster son died of a brain injury in November 2008. At trial, the Crown's case -- inventive and unsupported -- fell apart. The prosecutor's own witness, a pediatric pathologist, testified the fatal injury to the baby's head could not have happened in the two hours the accused was with the child. The time was the so-called window of opportunity in which the prosecution said Mr. Blacksmith committed the offence.

But the case essentially was fabricated from bits of circumstantial evidence. Mr. Blacksmith was seen as a good father, loving to the foster son. Medical experts agreed the child had suffered an injury causing the brain to swell, which ultimately killed him. Testimony revealed he frequently hit his head and had been repeatedly accidentally injured while with others in the days before his death. Queen's Bench Justice Deborah McCawley referred, at one point, to potentially exonerating evidence revealed in mid-2009. The Crown, unaware of that evidence until at the trial last month, nonetheless decided to "forge ahead" rather than fold.

Judge McCawley pulled no punches in her decision: Mr. Blacksmith was not found not guilty on a technicality; no evidence supported a case against him. In other words, the Crown's office, which is supposed to proceed with charges that have a reasonable chance of ending in conviction, did not do its job. The case oddly had passed muster at a preliminary hearing, where grounds for trial are supposed to be tested.

Mr. Blacksmith, she pointed out, has had a murder charge hanging over him for five years. He has not been allowed to see his children in that time. The family was torn apart. Now the province may be forced to pay his legal fees.

That, though, is not all that is owed to Mr. Blacksmith. He deserves a full account on how the Crown's office decided he might have killed his baby, maybe by shaking him violently.

This must be reviewed by a Crown's office outside Manitoba and it must be made public.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 A14

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