Alberta dad confused by guilty verdict in son's meningitis death, but has no plans to appeal

Waiting to be sentenced for failing to provide the necessaries of life in the death of his nearly 19-month-old son, David Stephan said he still doesn’t understand exactly what a jury found him guilty of doing.

'We're a lot more normal than the media has portrayed us to be,' says David Stephan

David and Collet Stephan appear outside the courthouse in Lethbridge, Alta., on April 26. (David Rossiter/Canadian Press)

Waiting to be sentenced for failing to provide the necessaries of life in the death of his nearly 19-month-old son, David Stephan says he still doesn't understand exactly what a jury found him guilty of doing.

The guilty verdict for Stephan and his wife, Collet Stephan — was handed down in April in a Lethbridge, Alta., courtroom. A sentencing hearing is expected on June 23.

"It's a quite confusing question at this point and one of the things the judge is going to have to consider during sentencing as to what the jury found us guilty on, because it's so wide open and varying," Stephan told CBC's Calgary Eyeopener

David Stephan, the Lethbridge man who was convicted for failing to provide the necessaries of life to his 19-month-old son, talks to Eyeopener host David Gray in advance of his sentencing hearing later this month.

But the Stephans are not planning on launching an appeal.

"At this point we have no real plans moving forward," said David.

"The appeal process itself is extremely financially taxing, you have to purchase all the transcripts from the previous trial, and seeing how it was a very long trial, that in itself would be probably $30,000 to $50,000, and that's excluding lawyers' fees and whatnot, just to come out of the gates on it."

'Completely at the mercy of the courts'

Their son Ezekiel died in 2012 of bacterial meningitis.

"We have obviously a lot of thoughts going through our mind as we're completely at the mercy of the courts now, and the fate of our family and the fate of where Collet and I will be and our children will be is completely up in the air at this point," said Stephan.

David and Collet Stephan were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son Ezekiel following his death from meningitis. (Facebook/CBC)

The court was told the couple thought their toddler was suffering from croup or the flu and spent more than two weeks treating him with remedies like hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish, even though a family friend who was a nurse told them she thought Ezekiel had meningitis.

They eventually took the toddler from their rural home in southern Alberta to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge to pick up an echinacea mixture. At the time, Ezekiel was too stiff to ride in a car seat and had to lie on a mattress in the vehicle.

"It could have been as small as a few minutes' delay in rushing him to the ambulance to maybe they believe the evidence that he had bacterial meningitis and not viral meningitis … and that they may have found us guilty for actually causing his death," said Stephan.

"It's not likely based on the information and evidence that came forward in the court, but that's how wide and varying it can be and each jury member could have found us guilty on a different element — so that's where it's tough as well, depending on what the individual jury member's opinion was."

Maximum sentence is 5 years

The couple have already begun preparing for the worst.

The maximum sentence for failing to provide the necessaries of life is five years in prison.

After Ezekiel died, the Stephans moved from Glenwood, Alta., to Nelson, B.C., and returned there after the verdict with their three other boys: Ezra, 8, Ephraim, 3, and Enoch, 1.

"We've been spending the last two weeks packing up our home and making sure if things go really sour that it doesn't leave our family in a bind where they have to come and try to pack up our stuff a considerable distance from where they are," he said.

Claims conviction sets precedent

Stephan posted a letter on social media to the jury following its verdict, saying it sets a dangerous precedent. 

"The floodgates have now been opened, and if we do not fall in line with parenting as seen fit by the government we all stand at risk of criminal prosecution," he wrote.

He continues to stand behind those words.

"I largely do," he said. "I have a great concern, not just for Collet and I and our three children, but yes — a precedent is set.

"Unfortunately, much of the information that parents have been exposed to has been highly sensationalized.… We're a lot more normal than the media has portrayed us to be, so this realistically could be a lot of different parents."

Death threats received

Reaction to the guilty verdicts has been sharply mixed.

"We've received tremendous amounts of support from all across the world, a lot of love," said David.

"We've also received multiple death threats, dozens of death threats from individuals who have only been subjected to certain media articles that made us out to look like a bunch of kooks that tried to treat our child's meningitis with fruit and juice and maple syrup and whatnot, so there's been really two extremes, just an outpouring of love and support and an outpouring of hatred and death threats."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener