Calgary baby death trial told boy's rash was likely nutritional deficiency

A dermatologist has testified at the trial of a couple charged in the death of their 14-month-old son that a rash covering the child's body when he was brought to hospital was likely from a nutritional deficiency, not eczema.

Dermatologist Laurie Parsons said rash didn't look like childhood eczema

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

A trial has heard a laptop seized from the home of a couple charged in the death of their 14-month-old son contained evidence of online searches related to natural gangrene and eczema treatments.

Jeromie and Jennifer Clark have pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessaries of life for their son John.

Their trial has already heard from emergency and intensive care doctors that John had some black toes, an abnormally low body temperature and was covered in a rash thought to be eczema when his parents took him to a Calgary hospital on the afternoon of Nov. 28, 2013.

Const. Shafik Punja testified for the Crown Tuesday as an expert forensic digital examiner.

Punja showed a log of searches stored on the laptop's hard drive, which included "can ginger help eczema;" "gangrene cayenne as a treatment;" "natural cure for wet gangrene;" and "can cabbage leaves help gangrene."

The dates of some searches were inaccessible as they were done through a browser set intentionally to private mode, Punja testified.

But he said some of the gangrene-related searches were done on the evening of Nov. 27 and morning of Nov. 28, 2013.

Punja also showed details for searches done on Nov 13, 2013, related to poor circulation in the feet and eczema. Earlier in the year, there were searches for foods that contain zinc, how much a one-year-old baby should eat and what foods trigger eczema.

Jeromie Clark's lawyer, David Chow, asked Punja under cross-examination whether there was anything he found inherently problematic, in his capacity as a police officer, about the searches.

"It depends on the context under which the search is being done," Punja answered.

A dermatologist testified earlier Tuesday that John's rash was likely due to a nutritional deficiency, not eczema.

Laurie Parsons said she did not treat the boy, but saw post-mortem photographs and an autopsy report.

She said the rash had an unusual whirling pattern with sharp demarcations between parts that were normal and abnormal — as if looking at a coastline on a map.

"I cannot say whether this child ever had eczema or not. A child with eczema's fairly common," she said. "But this is certainly not the pattern of childhood eczema."

When prosecutor Shane Parker asked Parsons what skin condition she thought John had, she replied: "All of his skin issues were secondary to nutritional deficiencies."

She said it usually takes weeks for skin to reach that state. Sometimes the skin blisters and separates, allowing bacteria in.

John died the day after he was admitted into intensive care at Alberta Children's Hospital of what was later determined to be a staph infection.

Parsons said John also seemed to have orange-yellow hair that would cause most dermatologists to wonder about a nutritional deficiency. She admitted under cross-examination that it would have been better to see John first-hand rather than in a photograph.

Parsons testified that if she had seen John as a patient, she would have been concerned.

"I would have been very suspicious why this baby looked like this, that he did have a nutritional deficiency," she said.

"My first thing would have been to send him directly to emergency, have him admitted and have child protection services involved."

Chow interrupted Parsons to object. He said her comments on child protective services were outside of her expertise. Parker concurred and Justice Paul Jeffrey ordered jurors to disregard the remark.

Also Tuesday, jurors were shown photos of books having to do with nutrition and how to look after babies and toddlers. There were also photographs of the inside of the couple's refrigerator and of cupboards stocked with food, including fruits and vegetables, as well as with vitamins and supplements.