Calgary

Toddler's meningitis death trial decision in hands of jury

The guilt or innocence of a couple charged in the bacterial meningitis death of their toddler son in Alberta four years ago is now in the hands of the jury.

David and Collet Stephan accused of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son

David Stephan, 32, and his wife Collet Stephan, 35, have been on trial in Lethbridge since early last month for failing to provide the necessaries of life for 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died in March 2012. (David Rossiter/Canadian Press)

The guilt or innocence of a couple charged in the bacterial meningitis death of their toddler son in Alberta four years ago is now in the hands of the jury.

David Stephan, 32, and Collet Stephan, 36, are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel in 2012.

Alberta Justice Rodney Jerke delivered his charge to the jury this afternoon at the conclusion of the six-week trial after closing arguments wrapped up on the weekend.

David stroked his wife's hair as she cried softly listening to the judge in a courtroom packed with nearly five dozen supporters of the couple. 

The couple believed that Ezekiel was suffering from croup.

As a result, they treated him with remedies that included smoothies containing hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish over a period of more than two weeks before he stopped breathing and was rushed to hospital.

Ezekiel was taken to the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary where doctors detected little brain activity and he died a couple of days later.

Tense in court as judge charges jury

It was tense in court on Monday as Jerke told the jury they would have to find that each parent was under a legal duty to provide for their son, that they failed to do so and that failure endangered the toddler's life. 

The Crown says the Stephans didn't do enough to ensure Ezekiel received the medical treatment that he required and had been warned the boy likely had meningitis.

Ezekiel Stephan of Raymond, Alta., died in March 2012. An autopsy shows he had meningitis. (Stephan family)

A friend of the Stephans, who is a registered nurse, testified she told the mother that he might have viral meningitis and advised the boy be taken to a doctor.

Court documents entered in the trial say just days before Ezekiel was rushed to hospital his family was giving him fluids through an eyedropper because he wouldn't eat or drink.

The jury has also heard that Collet Stephan researched treatments for viral meningitis online and the next day picked up an echinacea mixture from a naturopath in Lethbridge.

Court was told Ezekiel was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress as they drove to the naturopath's office the day before he stopped breathing.

In her final submission, prosecutor Lisa Weich told the jury that this isn't a case of murder or manslaughter but rather failure to provide the little boy with the help he needed.

"Clearly they do not want to be held responsible for the decisions that they made while watching Ezekiel. What parent would?," she said.

Not a question of love, Crown says

"No one wants to think that they had any part and that they had any responsibility in acting inappropriately when it comes to taking care of their child."

Weich said there's no question that the Stephans loved their son but they failed him by not getting him the help he needed.

Defence lawyer Shawn Buckley said the jury must decide if the Stephans' actions were a "marked departure of what a reasonable and prudent parent would do."

"Did they seek medical attention and did they seek it soon enough?" he asked in his closing arguments.

The jury — made of eight women and four men — will have to come up with two verdicts for each parent and will have to find their actions were a marked departure from the conduct of a reasonable person. 

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

With files from The Canadian Press

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