An Alberta couple has been found guilty of failing to provide their son with the necessaries of life, four years after he died of bacterial meningitis. The parents, whose preference for natural remedies over traditional medicine is said to have caused the child's death, could spend up to five years in jail.
David and Collet Stephan were charged a year after their 19-month old son Ezekiel died in March, 2012. The six-week trial concluded on Monday, with the jury, who were instructed by the judge not to make their decisions based on "sympathy, prejudice or fear," wrapping up deliberations in Lethbridge, Alberta in just two days.
The Stephans will be back in court on June 13, when a date will be set for their sentencing.
During the trial, the defence painted the couple as responsible parents who weren't aware of how ill their son was, while the Crown argued that the Stephans didn't do enough to make sure he received the medical care he needed.
Ezekiel had already been sick for over two weeks with what his parents believed was croup and the flu when suddenly he stopped breathing, prompting his parents to call an ambulance.
Up until that point, they had been treating him with natural remedies like smoothies with hot peppers, garlic, onions, and horseradish, the Canadian Press reported.
Ezekiel was airlifted to a Calgary hospital, where he was on life support for five days before being taken off.
After a family friend, who is also a registered nurse, told the couple Ezekiel likely had meningitis, Collette researched the disease online and concluded that it was likely viral version, and not the more serious bacterial version. The court heard she then bought an echinacea mixture to treat him, The Canadian Press reported.
According to the official death report, however, the toddler had been suffering bacterial meningitis and neurological dysfunction.
The day before he stopped breathing, the toddler had to lie on a mattress while travelling to a naturopath's office because he was too stiff to sit in a car seat.
But defence lawyer Shawn Buckley said during closing arguments that not a single witness called by either side who had seen the little boy before he was taken to hospital thought he needed immediate medical attention, the Canadian Press reported.
The Stephans have said they were shocked by the charges, which they believe were laid because the Crown wanted to make an example of them for not vaccinating their kids. Ezekiel had never been vaccinated, and neither have the Stephans' three other children.