Witness tells court she told Alberta mother to take sick child to hospital
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, June 3, 2019 4:25AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 3, 2019 9:36PM EDT
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. -- A friend of an Alberta woman has testified that she advised her to get a medical opinion the day before the woman's 19-month-old son stopped breathing and later died of meningitis.
Terrie Shaw was the first witness called Monday in the trial of David and Collet Stephan. They are being tried for a second time on a charge of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son Ezekiel.
A jury found the Stephans guilty in 2016, but the Supreme Court overturned the convictions last year and ordered a new trial. This one is before a judge alone.
Shaw, who is a midwife, told court that Collet Stephan asked her to examine the sleeping toddler in March 2012 because he hadn't been feeling well and had a cough.
"I told her there was nothing alarming to me," Shaw said.
"I said maybe it's something more internal like meningitis. I said perhaps she should take him to the doctor to get a second opinion."
The two researched meningitis online and discussed herbal, alternative and spiritual therapies, she said.
There was also a discussion about David Stephan's father conducting a "priesthood blessing" on the boy, Shaw added. It's a typical practice in the church both families attend -- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I would have done the same thing," Shaw told court.
The Stephans lived in the village of Glenwood, about 100 kilometres southwest of Lethbridge in southern Alberta when Ezekiel got sick. They now reside in Grande Prairie, northwest of Edmonton.
Crown prosecutor Britta Kristensen said in her opening statement that a failure to get medical assistance for the toddler led to his death. She said the chief medical officer will testify that Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis.
David Stephan told reporters during a lunch break that he isn't optimistic about the outcome of the trial, but expects the truth will come out.
"I'm not overly confident that the result will be different. It may be. It may not be. I'm confident that the evidence that is going to come out in court this time around is going to be significantly different than it was last time," he said.
Stephan said he and his wife don't regret appealing the original conviction.
"We would have just thrown in the towel long ago if it was just about us. We didn't have a choice but to move forward, because it's precedent setting throughout Canada," he said.
Lexie Vataman, a receptionist at a naturopath clinic, testified she received a call from Collet Stephan in March 2012. The mother was looking for something to boost her "little one's immune system."
"She said he might have meningitis," Vataman told the court.
"I said I think you should go to a medical doctor."
Vataman said she spoke to the naturopath and explained the mother's concerns. "She was a little alarmed and said maybe they should have him checked out in emergency."
The naturopath, Tracey Tannis, recommended a tincture of echinacea to boost Ezekiel's immune system, Vataman said. Collet Stephan later picked up the mixture.
The trial is scheduled to last four weeks.