Appeal Court reserves decision on conviction of Alberta couple in son’s death

Appeal Court reserves decision on conviction of Alberta couple in son’s death

CALGARY — Alberta’s top court has reserved its decision in the case of a Calgary husband and wife seeking to overturn their convictions in the death of their 14-month-old son.

Jennifer Clark and Jeromie Clark were sentenced in June 2019 to 32 months in prison after a jury found them guilty of criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessaries of life.

The trial heard that their son, John, didn’t see a doctor until the day before he died in November 2013. A forensic pathologist testified the boy was malnourished and died from a staph infection.

Jurors saw photos of the dead boy with a red rash all over his body and with blackened toes. They were also shown screenshots of online searches for natural remedies for gangrene, such as cabbage leaves and cayenne.

In the Court of Appeal Thursday, defence lawyers Andrea Serink and Alias Sanders argued that the couple didn’t receive a fair trial and that the Crown went too far in discrediting the testimony of Alberta’s former chief medical examiner Dr. Anny Sauvageau.

Sauvageau contradicted testimony from the current chief medical examiner and said the child most likely died of an “overly aggressive correction” of the sodium in his blood.

“The important consideration is the big picture. Did these people have a fair trial? And that’s the question with which we should be concerned,” said Sanders.

“When the Crown took a thousand jabs at (Sauvageau), it’s like death by a thousand cuts and even if she scores a point here or there, and even if defence counsel failed then to bring it back and redirect, or failed to show her having been badly treated, the Crown argument prevails.”

Sanders said Sauvageau’s message was lost in the process.

But Justice Frans Slatter noted the defence had an opportunity to set the record straight.

“Why is defence counsel just sitting there, and if they thought that the witness had been cut off, why didn’t they re-examine her? Why on appeal should the appellants be allowed to complain now about things that were not objected to?” Slatter asked.

The appeal judges reserved their decision without hearing oral arguments from the Crown.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 10, 2020.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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