Calgary

Crown seeks up to 4½ years prison time for parents of toddler in meningitis death

David and Collet Stephan effectively abused their son Ezekiel, endangering his life, and should serve up to 4½ years in prison, the Crown prosecutor said in a Lethbridge, Alta., courtroom Thursday at a sentencing hearing.

Mother Collet Stephan breaks down in tears during testimony

David and Collet Stephan were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their toddler son Ezekiel, who died in 2012 of bacterial meningitis. (David Rossiter/Canadian Press)

David and Collet Stephan effectively abused their son Ezekiel, endangering his life, and should serve up to 4½ years in prison, the Crown prosecutor said in a Lethbridge, Alta., courtroom Thursday at a sentencing hearing.

The Alberta couple were found guilty in April of failing to provide the necessaries of life for their toddler, who died of bacterial meningitis four years ago.

Prosecutor Lisa Weich said the parents should have provided medical assistance and that not doing so was "effectively abuse."

Calling the parents' behaviour "arrogant and selfish," the Crown is seeking three to 4½ years behind bars.

The Crown interrupted part of Collet Stephan's testimony earlier on Thursday in the Lethbridge Court of Queen's Bench when she claimed the boy's autopsy report had been falsified.

Her lawyer, Shawn Buckley, said he had no idea she had planned to make such a statement.

The sentencing hearing resumed shortly afterward, and Collet Stephan, 36, broke down in tears at other points during her testimony.

The defence is expected to call a total of five witnesses, but revealed that the woman's husband, David Stephan, 32, won't be one of them.

The Stephans were convicted by a jury in April in the case involving 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died in March 2012.

The boy had been sick for almost two weeks and, despite advice that the boy needed medical attention, the Stephans chose to treat him with herbal and natural remedies.

Justice Rod Jerke allowed a five-minute interview to be aired in court of David Stephan talking to producers of an anti-vaccination film.

Defence lawyer Shawn Buckley was clearly upset with the decision, tossing papers on the table in front of him.

'Most horrible thing that ever happened'

An emotional Collet Stephan testified that after four years of "could've, would've, should've," she would do anything to have her son alive again.

"If I could turn back time and do something different ... I definitely would," she told the court.

Collet said her son's death was the "most horrible thing that ever happened" in her life.

She said she has suffered depression, anxiety, panic attacks and nightmares about SWAT team members coming to their house in the middle of the night to take away their other three children.

Collet further testified that people in the tiny community of Glenwood shunned them after the couple were charged.

She said people were rude and made snarky comments, and when she would wave to say hi, many would look away.

Parents' failure 'contributed significantly'

Earlier this month, the judge released the finding of facts in the case that he will use to consider the couple's fate.

"The failure of Mr. Stephan and Mrs. Stephan … contributed significantly to the risk to Ezekiel's life," he wrote.

Court heard the couple thought the boy had croup or flu, so they treated him with hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish, even though a family friend who was a nurse told them she thought Ezekiel had meningitis.

The trial also heard the little boy was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress when Collet Stephan drove him from their rural home to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge to pick up an echinacea mixture.

The Stephans never called for medical assistance until Ezekiel stopped breathing. He later died in a Calgary hospital.

Calling the parents' behaviour 'arrogant and selfish,' the Crown had asked the judge to sentence the Alberta couple to three to 4½ years behind bars. (Facebook/CBC)

Jerke wrote he was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that a prudent and ordinary person without medical training would have foreseen "that medical attention was required to maintain Ezekiel's life."

"Mr. and Mrs. Stephan did not provide Ezekiel with medical attention. This was a failure of their legal duty to provide necessaries of life. It was a marked departure from the required standard of care," he said. "It is morally blameworthy conduct."

However, Jerke also noted in his findings there's no doubt the Stephans were "caring and attentive parents and had no intention of harming Ezekiel."

The Stephans now live in British Columbia, but have remained free since their conviction.

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

With files from The Canadian Press