Parents on trial: Witness says she told mother to take sick child to hospital

LETHBRIDGE — A friend of an Alberta woman has testified that she advised her to get a medical opinion the day before the woman’s 19-month-old son stopped breathing and later died in hospital.

Terrie Shaw was the first witness called Monday in the trial of David and Collet Stephan. They are being tried for a second time on a charge of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son Ezekiel.

A jury found the Stephans guilty in 2016, but the Supreme Court overturned the convictions last year and ordered a new trial. This one is before a judge alone.

Shaw, who is a midwife, told court that Collet Stephan asked her to examine the sleeping toddler in March 2012.

“I told her there was nothing alarming to me,” Shaw said.

“I said maybe it’s something more internal like meningitis. I said perhaps she should take him to the doctor to get a second opinion.”

The two researched meningitis online and discussed herbal and alternative therapies, she said.

“There was some discussion about a priesthood blessing.”

The couple lived in the village of Glenwood, about 100 kilometres southwest of Lethbridge in southern Alberta when Ezekiel got sick.

Crown prosecutor Britta Kristensen said in her opening statement that a failure to get medical assistance for the toddler led to his death. She said the chief medical officer will testify that Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis.

David Stephan told reporters during a lunch break that he isn’t optimistic about the outcome of the trial, but expects the truth will come out.

“I’m not overly confident that the result will be different. It may be. It may not be. I’m confident that the evidence that is going to come out in court this time around is going to be significantly different than it was last time,” he said.

Stephan said he and his wife don’t regret appealing the original conviction.

“We would have just thrown in the towel long ago if it was just about us. We didn’t have a choice but to move forward, because it’s precedent setting throughout Canada,” he said.

“The Crown had appealed the sentence and was seeking between three and four 1/2 years of jail. So really, we were put in a position of having our backs against the wall and having to fight.”

David Stephan is representing himself. Collet Stephan is to receive assistance from lawyer Shawn Buckley, who represented the couple at the first trial.

“I know that the two of you have been through a very difficult time and ultimately … you’re on trial as a result of a traumatic event to your family. I will try to assist you but I’m not your lawyer,” said Justice Terry Clackson as the trial began.

He gave the couple a brief overview of how a trial is run, how witnesses are questioned and of closing arguments.

The trial is scheduled to last four weeks.

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