Baby's death 'could happen to anybody,' defence lawyer argues in parents' trial

Those who have an interest in seeing Jennifer and Jeromie Clark convicted in the death of their baby were compared to a torch-carrying mob by a defence lawyer for the couple. WARNING: This story contains disturbing and graphic details.

WARNING: This 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)

Those who have an interest in seeing Jennifer and Jeromie Clark convicted in the death of their baby boy were compared to a torch-carrying mob by a defence lawyer for the couple, who told jurors they should find the couple not guilty.

"It's the sort of thing that could happen to anybody," said Jennifer's lawyer John Phillips in his closing argument Tuesday.

"In our society, we try not to just act like an angry mob grabbing at pitchforks and torches and heading off to the windmill to kill the monster all fired up by a story alleged by one side." 

Jennifer, 41, and Jeromie, 38, are each charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 14-month-old son John, who died in 2013 from what doctors said was a staph infection and malnutrition.

But by the time the Clarks brought John to the hospital in November 2013 he was "essentially dead on arrival," said prosecutor Shane Parker in his closing statement to jurors. 

Died within 24 hours

The child had four toes black with gangrene, he was hypothermic and a rash on 70 per cent of his tiny, undersized body.

Photos of the baby were displayed on screens in the courtroom for Parker's arguments on Tuesday. The tiny boy was covered in a blistering rash. He had sparse yellow hair, which a previous witness said was due to malnutrition.

John died less than 24 hours later after arriving at the hospital.

Parker said the Clarks were not adolescent parents living in a remote village without access to medical care. 

"What should a parent do?" asked Parker. "This is the easiest question to answer; you go to a doctor."

"You would call 911, you would run to the doctor."

A forensic analysis of the couple's computer showed internet searches in the days before John's death done on natural remedies for gangrene and rash treatment.

"Are herbal remedies and cabbage leaves better than modern medicine?" Parker asked rhetorically.

Doctors have also testified the boy would have been ill for weeks and likely should have seen a doctor months earlier because of severe developmental delays — John couldn't pull himself up or crawl and was in the first percentile for his height.

"That one-sided presentation sure would sound pretty damning, but it is a good example of why we have trials in our legal system," Phillips said of the Crown's case.

Jeromie's lawyer David Chow said John "was actually quite stable" when he arrived at hospital and cautioned jurors against the benefits of hindsight. 

"No human being is subject to a standard of perfection," said Chow.

Defence blames doctors

Phillips said the Clarks brought him to hospital without delay and believed doctors would make John better.

Defence lawyers have blamed hospital staff for causing the severely dehydrated baby's death by correcting his saline levels too quickly.

But Parker rejected that defence.

"It seems ironic that Jennifer and Jeromie Clark blame others in a case that is all about assessing their personal responsibility … their defence is an extension of their blind spot."

Several of the Crown's witnesses — doctors and medical experts — said if the child was brought to hospital earlier, he would have survived. 

The jury will receive final instructions on the law Thursday before they begin deliberations.

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

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