Calgary

Calgary couple convicted in son's death from staph infection handed prison sentences

A Calgary mother and father whose toddler died of a staph infection because they refused to take him to a doctor until it was too late have each been sentenced to 32 months in prison — with the judge saying incarceration was needed to deter other parents who might not seek timely medical treatment for their children.

14-month-old died after parents failed to take boy with staph infection to doctor in 2013

Jennifer and Jeromie Clark were found guilty of criminal negligence causing the death of their 14-month-old son in 2013. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

A Calgary mother and father whose toddler died of a staph infection because they refused to take him to a doctor until it was too late have each been sentenced to 32 months in prison — with the judge saying incarceration was needed to deter other parents who might not seek timely medical treatment for their children.

Jennifer and Jeromie Clark were found guilty of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 14-month-old son John, who died in 2013. 

Although unusual in everyday parlance, the word "necessaries" — not "necessities" — is the term the legal system uses.

John Clark was brought to hospital with a blistering rash covering most of his body.

Medical witnesses testified that if the boy had seen doctors earlier, he almost certainly would have survived.

A forensic pathologist's report said he was malnourished and died from a staph infection.

The trial jury was also shown screenshots of online searches for natural remedies for gangrene, such as cabbage leaves and cayenne.

Prosecutors argued the Clarks waited too long to take the seriously ill boy to hospital and their sentence should send a message of denunciation and deterrence.

During sentencing submissions last week, prosecutor Jennifer Crews said it was clear that  the Clarks loved their son very much.

But she argued the parents were responsible for the helpless child, and their failure to seek medical care as he grew sicker over a period of weeks was not a momentary lapse in judgment.

The couple's lawyers suggested at trial that doctors at the Alberta Children's Hospital were to blame because they raised the boy's sodium and fluid levels too aggressively.

David Chow, Jeromie Clark's lawyer, described the Clarks as "loving parents that were misguided" and questioned what putting them behind bars would accomplish.

John Phillips, Jennifer Clark's lawyer, told court: "This is not a case of a child being starved or abused."

The parents had hoped to serve their sentences in the community rather than behind bars.

In handing down the sentence Wednesday, Justice Paul Jeffrey said the couple displayed regret and genuine remorse over John's death. 

"In most every respect the offenders are described as model citizens, compassionate of others, amazing parents," he said.

But Jeffrey said they must be imprisoned to deter other parents who may "similarly recklessly forgo proper and timely medical care for their child."

The Crown had asked Jeffrey to impose a prison sentence of four to five years.

Jennifer Clark's lawyer recommended three to eight months in jail followed by probation, while Jeromie Clark's lawyer asked for no more than eight months or probation.

With files from The Canadian Press