Judge sentences 'willfully blind' parents for son's meningitis death
An Alberta judge sentenced a husband and wife for failing to provide proper medical treatment for their toddler after he fell ill with bacterial meningitis and died, calling the couple “willfully blind” to the boy’s grave condition.
Justice Rodney Jerke sentenced David Stephan, 33, to four months in jail while his wife, Collet Stephan, 36, was given three months of house arrest.
A jury found the couple guilty in April of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 19-month-old son, Ezekiel, who contracted meningitis in 2012. The Stephans tried to treat the boy with natural remedies of hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish, and they only called 911 after he stopped breathing.
In his harshly-worded decision, the judge acknowledged that the couple loved their son and felt deeply sorry for his death, but said they have not taken personal responsibility for their failure – particularly the father.
"You have affected many people ... your conduct has left an unerasable and chilling impact on all of us," Jerke told the couple in the Lethbridge, Alta., courthouse.
"This case was about whether parents, who failed to take a sick boy to a doctor, should be held criminally responsible. The trial was not about vaccination. This is far beyond a child who simply has the sniffles."
Judge: Father shows ‘complete lack of remorse’
The judge singled out David Stephan, who has openly criticized the court system over the case, and said he does not believe the father feels sorry for his actions.
"Mr. Stephan's post-conviction actions demonstrate a complete lack of remorse," the judge said. "To this day he refuses to admit his actions had any impact."
During the trial, the court was shown an interview between David Stephan and producers of the documentary "Vaxxed.” In the video, the father called the case “a parental rights issue” and said his family had been unfairly targeted.
David Stephan was taken into custody following Friday’s ruling. The parents will each serve two years of probation following their sentences.
The judge determined the offense was too serious for both parents to receive a suspended sentence, as the defence argued, but opted for a lesser sentence than the Crown’s suggested three to 4.5 years behind bars.
Justice Jerke ordered the parents to take their three children to a family doctor once each year and ordered Collet Stephan to publish his complete sentencing decision on a Facebook page titled “Prayers for Ezekiel.”
Crown: ‘Nobody can speak for him’
During the trial, the couple testified that Ezekiel was so sick that he refused to eat, appeared lethargic and was so stiff that he couldn’t sit in his car seat. The boy had to lie on a mattress in the car as his parents drove him to a naturopathic clinic to pick up an echinacea treatment.
A family friend who works in nursing told the parents she thought Ezekiel had meningitis, but the couple did not seek medical assistance until the toddler stopped breathing.
Ezekiel was rushed to hospital on March 13, 2012, and died three days later.
A crowd of supporters waved signs and shouted “I love you!” outside the courthouse Friday as they greeted the Stephans. David Stephan thanked them for coming out and accused “misinformation” of turning others against his family.
After the decision came down, David Stephan’s brother spoke to reporters outside the courthouse.
"Obviously we're saddened by the whole process but we're extremely grateful that there was some leniency granted," said Eric Sveinson.
Crown lawyer Lisa Weich would not say whether she thought the punishment was sufficient, and said fighting for Ezekiel was her priority.
"Unfortunately, nobody can speak for him. He couldn't even speak for himself. That was at the forefront of our thoughts as we went through."
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Lethbridge