Calgary

Parents on trial in toddler's death brought boy to hospital 'on death's doorstep,' Calgary jurors hear

When 14-month-old John Clark was brought to the hospital on Nov. 28, 2013, he was "on death's doorstep" with gangrenous toes and an infected rash blistering and cracking over 70 per cent of his body, which was in septic shock, jurors heard Monday morning.

WARNING: The story contains disturbing and graphic details

Jennifer and Jeromie Clark brought their 14-month-old son John to the hospital in November 2013 but he died 21 hours later. They are on trial for criminal negligence causing death. (Sharon Sergant)

When 14-month-old John Clark was brought to the hospital on Nov. 28, 2013, he was "on death's doorstep" with gangrenous toes and an infected rash blistering and cracking over 70 per cent of his body, which was in septic shock, jurors heard Monday morning.

The boy died 21 hours later.

"John's parents ignored the obvious and urgent need to see a real live doctor," said prosecutor Shane Parker in his opening statement to jurors in a Calgary courtroom.

Jennifer, 41, and Jeromie Clark, 38, are accused of failing their son by refusing to take him to a doctor and are charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life. Their three-week trial began Monday in the Court of Queen's Bench. 

John appeared 'lifeless'

On Nov 28, 2013, the Clarks brought their son to Foothills hospital. The boy was in septic shock, suffering multiple organ failure and was "losing his battle with a staph infection," said Parker.

Dr. Ping-Wei Chen was working a shift at Foothills Hospital when John was brought in and was the first doctor to treat the boy.

"I was very worried," Chen testified. "[John] appeared somewhat lifeless."

John was hypothermic when he arrived at hospital and besides his necrotic toes, had a green discharge coming from his eye, said Chen.

The ER doctor believed John was getting close to a cardiac arrest.

Chen travelled with the boy to the Alberta Children's Hospital in an ambulance where a team of doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists were waiting. 

Cross-examination

Under cross examination, Chen agreed with Jeromie Clark's lawyer David Chow that there were several reasons he was hopeful about John's prognosis. 

The child had a clear airway, his abdomen was not distended, and his babyhood soft spot — delicate spot on the top of a baby's head — was neither swollen nor sunken.

Chen also confirmed John's condition appeared to have declined somewhat in his 21 hours at hospital based on the photographs which were entered as an exhibit.

Chow asked Chen questions about a type of staph bacteria which is known to live in hospitals.

When asked if any of the medical tools used on John were tested for bacteria, Chen said he was unsure though it would not have been common practice.

Jennifer Clark's lawyer John Phillips asked Chen if sepsis can happen quickly. The doctor agreed, adding people with compromised immune systems are at an even greater risk. 

Paramedic Jessica Kerr became emotional when testifying about John Clark's condition when she first saw him. (Sharon Sergant)

Paramedic breaks down 

Paramedic Jessica Kerr, who was also in the ambulance with John, broke down as she described what he looked like when she first laid eyes on him.

"He was a sick little boy," said Kerr, who was the second Crown witness to testify. 

Kerr then took a moment to compose herself, wiping away tears from her face. 

"He looked like he had been burned from head to toe."

The toddler died from what the prosecution said should have been a treatable infection. Before he was hospitalized, John had never been taken to a doctor. 

David Stephan in court to support Clarks

"John was too small and too weak to fight," said Parker, who told jurors the Clarks were legally obligated to bring the sick child to a doctor. 

"As his parents they owed him that small but incredibly important duty."

Tests on the dead boy showed he had also been suffering from severe malnutrition and was in the 0.1 percentile of height and weight for his age and gender.

John was so malnourished and his immune system so compromised, the small boy "could not ward off death," said Parker. 

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Paul Jeffrey is presiding over the trial.

David Stephan is sitting in the courtroom in support of the Clarks. Stephan and his wife are heading to trial next year on charges of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 19-month-old son Ezekiel, who died from meningitis in 2012.

The couple was convicted in 2016 but the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial after finding the trial judge erred in his instructions to the jury.

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.