Jurors in a coroner's inquest hearing in Toronto received a tour of the prison cell where 19-year-old Ashley Smith died while prison guards stood by, watching and filming the incident.
While in her cell at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario, Smith choked to death on Oct. 19, 2007 after she tied a piece of cloth around her neck. Prison guards watched and filmed the incident as Smith lay on the floor, visibly turning purple. Once guards intervened, they had to perform CPR but were unable to revive Smith.
On Thursday, a five-woman jury got a first-hand look at the cell where Smith died. The cell contained a single bed with a rolled-up pad as a mattress, a sink and toilet and a single window which was equipped with a camera. During the tour, jurors asked several questions about the cell, including asking if prisoners get sheets, how often the cells cleaned, and whether there are cameras in the shower. Jurors also asked if the door to the cell could be closed while they were inside so they could get a sense of "how it feels".
Journalist Ioanna Roumeliotis, who also toured the cell, told CBC News:
"It's clear that these jurors are taking their task really seriously. They really do want to get a real sense of what Ashley Smith's time in prison was like."
The prison cell where Ashley Smith committed suicide.
Smith reportedly suffered from mental health issues. She was in her cell nearly 24 hours a day, showing increasing signs of suicidal thoughts. There were days were she refused to leave her cell even briefly.
Presiding coroner, Dr. John Carlisle, told jurors to "make observations" as to what they could see both inside the cell and what could be seen from the outside of the cell. Evidence of what the guards could and could not see will play a key role in the inquest. According to a Globe and Mail report, guards were ordered not to intervene as long as they could see Smith breathing.
According to CTV, the observation window in the door of Smith's cell is much bigger than it was at the time of her death. Windows on the doors of the other three units in the hall are the same size as the one which was on Smith's door when she died.
Dr. Carlisle says the inquest is not only looking into the circumstances of Smith's videotaped death, but is also examining how the Canadian prison system treats prisoners with mental illness.