Medical examiner tells couple's trial that child died of bacterial meningitis

An Alberta father being retried in his son's death suggested Wednesday that he and his wife would have been better off going directly to hospital rather than handing the child over to an ambulance — but a paramedic who was testifying disagreed.

Father says his son went without oxygen for eight minutes after paramedics took over

David and Collet Stephan, left, are being retried before a judge alone on charges of failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel, right. (Facebook)

A medical examiner who did the autopsy on a 19-month-old toddler whose parents are on trial in his death in southern Alberta says there's no question the boy died of bacterial meningitis.

David and Collet Stephan are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life for their son, Ezekiel, when the family lived in southern Alberta in March 2012. (Although unusual in everyday parlance, the word "necessaries" — not "necessities" — is the term the legal system uses.)

It is the second trial for the Stephans, who now live in Grande Prairie, Alta. A jury found them guilty in 2016, but the Supreme Court overturned the convictions last year and ordered a new trial. This one is before a judge alone.

The pathologist said his autopsy on March 19 of that year concluded the boy died of bacterial meningitis and a lung infection.

"That was very clear right from the beginning why this child died. There was no confusion about why he died," Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo told the judge hearing the case in Lethbridge Court of Queen's Bench.

"It was obvious it was bacterial meningitis and empyema. There was no trauma or anything that is suspicious."

Adeagbo was a medical examiner in Calgary before leaving for a new job in Indiana a year ago. He testified via video link from Terre Haute.

Although Adeagbo conducted his autopsy on Ezekiel in March, the doctor's final report wasn't completed until the end of October that year.

He said it was important that he take the proper amount of time to give a full explanation in the report. That meant sending samples of the toddler's cerebral spinal fluid and a biopsy of his right lung, which had an infectious mass, to a microbiologist.

"It took a while," he acknowledged Monday.

The pathologist said he also sent his report for a peer review, which was normal in Alberta at the time of the boy's death.

"It was a standard thing … for every suspected pediatric homicide no matter what the age," he told the court.

"It took some time to finish the explanation even though it was very clear."

The pathologist's comments haven't been admitted into evidence as the defence is questioning him in a voir dire held to determine whether he will be allowed to testify as an expert witness.

Lawyer Shawn Buckley, representing Collet Stephan, has said there is an "issue of bias" with Adeagbo, but the lawyer's arguments haven't been heard yet.

The trial has been told that the Stephans thought Ezekiel was ill with the flu and treated him with alternative health remedies even though a midwife and a naturopathic doctor suggested they seek medical treatment for their son.

The couple called 911 when the child stopped breathing, but he died in hospital.