Couple charged in child's death want millions from Alberta government for their defence

The Alberta couple accused of causing their son's death by refusing to take the sick boy to a doctor want their trial delayed until the provincial government pays them $1 million and puts $3 million in trust for defence fees at their upcoming trial.

Couple's 2nd trial is set to begin next June

David and Collet Stephan were found guilty in a court in Lethbridge, Alta., in 2016 of failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel. They treated him with hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish before he died of bacterial meningitis. (Facebook)

The Alberta couple accused of causing their son's death by refusing to take the sick boy to a doctor want their trial delayed until the provincial government pays them $1 million and puts $3 million in trust for defence fees at their upcoming trial.

David and Collet Stephan filed an application in the Court of Queen's Bench earlier this week and appeared via closed-circuit television in a Calgary courtroom Thursday afternoon. The Stephans recently moved north and appeared via a video feed from the Grande Prairie courthouse.

"The accused have liquidated their assets, are in debt to previous counsel from the last trial and do not have the money to obtain the needed assistance required to provide them with a fair trial" reads an affidavit filed along with their application for a judicial stay.

The Stephans told the judge there had been a "drastic change" in their position and that there was "no way" they could go ahead with a trial.

"I have a question, Mr. and Mrs. Stephan," said Justice Beth Hughes. "Have you thought about what you might do if your application is not successful? Have you got another plan?"

"We'll just figure that out, touch and go, at that point," said David. 

"No, we can't do it that way," Hughes replied. "We have a trial date set for June ... we have to find out if you're going to have counsel or not."

David said he wasn't sure if he and his wife would be hiring a lawyer should their application be unsuccessful.

Natural remedies 

The Stephans were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 19-month-old son Ezekiel following his death in 2012 from meningitis. However, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned that conviction and ordered a new trial, which is supposed to take place in June 2019.

During the first trial, jurors heard the Stephans treated their son with natural remedies and homemade smoothies containing hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion. Evidence was presented that the couple refused to take the boy to a doctor even when he became so stiff he couldn't sit in his car seat.

Only when Ezekiel stopped breathing did the parents call 911. After days of being ill, he stopped breathing and was rushed to hospital, but died.

In May, the country's highest court ruled the trial judge erred in instructing jurors on how to apply the law to their deliberations.

But after the Supreme Court victory, the couple fired their lawyers because they say they can't afford further legal fees.

$1M spent to date

The Stephans say they've spent more than $1 million on their legal battle to date.

They argue the original convictions were overturned through no fault of their own and say in the affidavit that the Alberta government should reimburse them for all costs incurred including for their appeals. 

The additional $3,000,000 sought by the couple would go toward lawyers' fees, investigators and experts that the Stephans say need to be hired by the defence team. The couple has proposed that money would be administered by a court-appointed trustee.

The affidavit also accuses Alberta Justice and Alberta Health Services employees of withholding, falsifying and tampering with evidence at the first trial. 

The couple has already been denied a government-funded lawyer because they don't qualify based on their income and/or assets. 

Allegations against lawyers, witnesses

In addition to their request for funds, the Stephans have also launched a complaint against prosecutors and witnesses who were called at the first trial. The couple alleged the RCMP turned over 719 pages of "privileged files" to the Crown.

The affidavit calls the Crown and its witnesses "suspects who committed crimes during the trial."

Although the RCMP has also been accused of "illicit actions" against the Stephans, the couple has asked that same police force to investigate their allegations against officers, prosecutors and witnesses. 

Prosecutor Britta Kristensen was in court on Thursday for the Crown and lawyer Chris Ghesquiere appeared on behalf the attorney general.

The couple's re-trial is supposed to take place on June 3, 2019.



Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is a justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at or follow her on Twitter.