The Calgary parents of a toddler who overdosed on methadone were convicted Friday of failing to provide the necessities of life in the death of their 16-month-old daughter.
Jonathan Hope and Lisa Guerin were acquitted of two other, more serious, charges of manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death.
Summer Hope died in April 2006 after ingesting a lethal dose of the synthetic opiate that Jonathan Hope had been taking as part of treatment for a drug addiction.
Hope testified he didn't notice anything wrong with his daughter until the morning after she ingested the methadone when he found she wasn't breathing, but even then, it was several hours before paramedics were alerted.
A former friend of Guerin, Amanda MacDonald, testified that Guerin had noticed traces of methadone on the toddler's shirt a day earlier, but Guerin denied this.
In handing down the conviction, Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Earl Wilson said that regardless of whether or not the couple knew for certain that their child had ingested methadone, a responsible parent would have sought medical assurances that she was OK.
"Common sense exercised by the prudent parent is to take no chance when there's even a possibility that a child's been poisoned," said Wilson. "No real willingness was shown by either parent to do that."
Failure to provide the necessities of life carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.
Star witness not believable
During the nine-day trial, the Crown failed to prove the other two charges beyond a reasonable doubt, said Wilson. Testimony from MacDonald, the prosecution's star witness, was not entirely believable, said the judge.
Defence lawyers argued MacDonald was not a credible witness because she admitted to using cocaine daily for many years.
MacDonald testified she saw the toddler come out of a bedroom with a stain on her shirt.
'We certainly will be asking for significant jail time.' —Ken McCaffrey, Crown prosecutor
When Guerin noticed it, she exclaimed, "Oh, my God, Jonathan, Summer just drank your methadone!" according to MacDonald.
When the friend asked Guerin why methadone was even in the house, Guerin said she asked Hope to sneak some home from his treatment clinic in a coffee cup so that she could see what it would do to her, recalled MacDonald.
Seemingly unconcerned about her child, Guerin then left on a road trip with MacDonald.
Guerin, who testified in her own defence, contradicted MacDonald's testimony and claimed she had no idea her daughter swallowed methadone before she left town for two days.
The defence pointed out that investigators did not find a cup with traces of methadone or the toddler's shirt with the spilled drug on it.
Father attempted CPR for hours
Paramedics found the girl dead the day after she swallowed the methadone.
Hope told paramedics he attempted CPR on the baby for five hours, as well as fashioning a makeshift defibrillator out of wires from a lamp. He said he didn't call 911 because his phone wasn't working.
'I think a [16-month-old] girl doesn't have the chance to grow up directly because of the negligence of her parents.' —Terrance Lynn, godfather
Summer died of methadone toxicity, but a drug called naloxone could have reversed the effect of the toddler's overdose if administered in time, a forensic pathologist testified.
"I would be lying if I said I was completely happy with [the decision]…. We will review it," Crown prosecutor Ken McCaffrey said Friday. "We certainly will be asking for significant jail time."
Summer's godfather, Terrance Lynn, said he was also disappointed with the decision, calling it "ludicrous."
"I think a [16-month-old] girl doesn't have the chance to grow up directly because of the negligence of her parents," Lynn said, speaking to reporters.
A date for sentencing is expected to be scheduled on March 19.
The trial saw some bizarre adjournments, including two on the first day, when Hope showed up drunk to court in the morning and again later when Hope's friend, who was in the gallery, suffered a seizure.