LETHBRIDGE — The mother of a toddler who died of meningitis began weeping uncontrollably Tuesday after a jury found her and her husband guilty of failing to provide their ill son with the necessaries of life.
David and Collet Stephan were charged after 19-month-old Ezekiel died in March 2012.
The couple testified at their trial in Lethbridge that they believed their son had croup or flu, so they treated him for 2 1/2 weeks with remedies that included smoothies with hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish.
He eventually stopped breathing and died after being rushed to hospital.
The four-man, eight-woman jury had been deliberating since Monday afternoon. There was a gasp in the courtroom as the decision from the jurors came down.
The defence argued the couple were loving, responsible parents who simply didn’t realize how sick the little boy was.
The Crown said the Stephans didn’t do enough to ensure Ezekiel received the medical help he needed. The prosecution noted that the Stephans had been warned by a friend who was a registered nurse that the boy probably had meningitis.
The maximum penalty for failing to provide the necessaries of life is five years in prison.
Justice Rodney Jerke did not set a sentencing date. That’s to be decided at a court appearance on June 13. The Stephans were not taken into custody.
“This case is not yet over, but a big chapter has come to a close,” Jerke said.
He noted that you only had to look at the faces of the jurors to tell “this was a difficult case.”
Crown prosecutor Lisa Weich said the charge of failing to provide the necessaries of life ensures that people who cannot care for themselves receive the minimal standard of care expected by society.
“They definitely, definitely loved their son but as stated in our closing arguments, unfortunately sometimes love just isn’t enough,” Weich said outside court. “Parents still have to follow a standard of care as set by criminal law.”
A Stephan family member swore at the media as she left the courthouse, saying she would not speak to reporters.
The case has drawn international attention, due in part because of the societal divide between those who do and don’t believe in the natural medicine movement.
Court documents entered at the trial said just days before Ezekiel was rushed to hospital his family was giving him fluids through an eyedropper because he wouldn’t eat or drink.
The jury also heard that Collet Stephan researched treatments for viral meningitis online and picked up an echinacea mixture from a naturopath in Lethbridge.
Court was told Ezekiel was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress on the way to a naturopath’s office the day before he stopped breathing.