Judge gives prison time to Calgary couple in toddler’s infection death

CALGARY — A judge says a mother and father convicted in their toddler’s death from an infection pose no threat to society, but prison time is needed to make sure other parents don’t fail to get timely medical care for their children.

Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Paul Jeffrey sentenced Jennifer and Jeromie Clark on Wednesday to 32 months.

A jury found the couple guilty last fall of criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessaries of life to their 14-month-old son, John.

Jeffrey noted the Clarks have complied with all their bail conditions and have shown “genuine remorse” for their role in the boy’s death. They also have support and acceptance from their Seventh-day Adventist church.

“In most every respect, the offenders are described as model citizens, compassionate of others, amazing parents,” Jeffrey said.

“The offenders are not people from whom society needs distance or protection.”

But the judge said it’s important the Clarks spend time in prison.

“A period of incarceration is necessary to deter other parents who may similarly recklessly forgo proper and timely medical care for their child.”

The trial heard John didn’t see a doctor until the day before he died in November 2013. A forensic pathologist’s report said he 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 screen shots of online searches for natural remedies for gangrene, such as cabbage leaves and cayenne.

Prosecutors argued the Clarks waited too long to take the gravely ill boy to hospital and that their sentence needed to send a message of denunciation and deterrence.

The Crown had asked for a sentence of four to five years, while defence lawyers recommended terms ranging from probation to eight months in jail.

Prosecutor Jennifer Crews said she was disappointed but not surprised the judge imposed a lower sentence than what the Crown had requested.

“Mr. and Mrs. Clark have always presented as very co-operative and very loving,” Crews said outside court.

“It’s very difficult, especially when you know his parents obviously loved him. So you’re balancing that with the law and the criminality of the decisions they made.”

The couple’s lawyers suggested at trial that doctors at the Alberta Children’s Hospital were to blame because they raised the boy’s sodium and fluid levels too aggressively.

David Chow, Jeromie Clark’s lawyer, described the Clarks during sentencing submissions last week as “loving parents that were misguided.” He questioned what putting them behind bars would accomplish.

John Phillips, Jennifer Clark’s lawyer, told court: “This is not a case of a child being starved or abused.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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