David and Collet Stephan are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel who died in March 2012. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Alberta couple charged in toddler son’s death to learn fate from judge

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A judge is to rule today whether an Alberta couple who treated their son with herbal remedies rather than seek medical attention should be held responsible in his death.

David and Collet Stephan are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel who died in March 2012.

They were found guilty by a jury in 2016, but the Supreme Court of Canada set aside the conviction and ordered a new trial.

“It feels good after three months of trial, after 6 1/2 years of prosecution and 7 1/2 years of this, to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” David Stephan said last month at the end of closing arguments.

“We could have taken the easy road out a number of times … but we weren’t willing to go that route,” he said.

The medical examiner who did the autopsy said Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis and there was no sign his brain was deprived of oxygen, but a defence pathologist said he died from a lack of oxygen to the brain.

Over the course of the trial in Lethbridge, Alta., the Stephans testified that they initially thought Ezekiel had croup, an upper airway infection, and they treated him with natural remedies including a smoothie with garlic, onion and horseradish.

They said he appeared to be recovering at times and they saw no reason to take him to hospital, despite his having a fever and lacking energy.

They called an ambulance when the boy stopped breathing.

A family friend, who is a nurse and midwife, testified that she advised Collet Stephan the day before to get a medical opinion. The friend feared “something more internal like meningitis.”

“It’s the Stephans’ failure to respond to … increasingly alarming information or feedback from their child during that period of time,” Crown prosecutor Britta Kristensen said in her closing argument.

“Both parents knew the child had meningitis.”

David Stephan, who represented himself, argued it was a failure by medical professionals to properly intubate his son that led to his death.

Testimony indicated the boy was without oxygen for nearly nine minutes because an ambulance that took him to hospital wasn’t properly stocked with breathing equipment to fit a child.

Stephan said it’s too soon to say what the couple’s next step might be.

“Whether it be guilty or not guilty, there’ll be some assessment either way.”

Justice Terry Clackson is to hand down his decision this afternoon.

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