A weeping mother who was called to the witness stand during sentencing arguments in an Alberta courtroom Thursday said that losing her son was the worst day of her life.
Collet and David Stephan were convicted in April of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 18-month-old son Ezekiel, who died in 2012 of bacterial meningitis. The maximum sentence is five years in prison.
TIMELINE: Ezekiel Stephan’s final days
The Stephans, whose family helped start a nutritional supplements company, failed to get medical attention for the boy, and instead treated him with home remedies such as garlic, onions, horseradish and maple syrup.
Collet Stephan, one of five witnesses called by her lawyer Shawn Buckley, told court in Lethbridge, Alta., that she was depressed, suffered panic attacks and had nightmares about her children being stolen.
“I had a nightmare after we were charged of a SWAT team breaking into our house in the middle of the night and stealing our children,” she said.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen with our children or us, and being a mother is my purpose in life. It’s the reason I am here.”
Stephan told court she has spent the last four years of her life second-guessing herself and wondering what would have happened if she had done something differently.
“If I could turn back time and do something different so he would still be here, I definitely would.”
She also admitted to having trouble preparing for the trial because her lawyer wanted her to review the evidence.
“I was forced to relive the worst day of my life and couldn’t bring myself to,” she said.
At one point during the sentencing hearing, the judge noticed two of the Stephans’ children in the courtroom and questioned whether they should be present. The defence then asked the children to leave “due to upcoming topics.”
Watch below: Global’s ongoing coverage of the Stephan trial
A single protester showed up at the courthouse prior to the Stephans’ sentencing hearing.
Dr. Carrie Kollias, a Lethbridge orthopedic surgeon, brought her two children to the courthouse and carried two placards.
One of the signs read: “Science. Not fear. Not Negligence,” while the other said that “Children have a right to live and not die of a curable disease.”
Kollias said it bothers her that supporters of the Stephans are trying to turn the case into a forum for the anti-vaccination movement.
She said the key thing is a small boy died an unnecessary death and medicine would have saved his life.
Kollias said she felt she needed to speak out after hearing that anti-vaccination documentary filmmakers are urging the public to support the Stephans.
Watch below: In a video posted to Facebook, the controversial Vaxxed filmmakers call on the public to support David and Collet Stephan against what they call an “incredible lying machine.” Global’s Jill Croteau reports.
The trial heard the little boy was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress when Collet Stephan drove him from their rural home to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge to pick up an echinacea mixture.
The Stephans never called for medical assistance until Ezekiel stopped breathing. He died in a Calgary hospital.
The Crown says Justice Rodney Jerke is expected to hand down a sentence on Friday.
Character witnesses told the hearing that the Stephans were kind and wonderful parents. One friend called Collet the “Martha Stewart of Canada,” while another said the couple were the “kind of parents that I want to be.”
David Stephan’s sister, Angela Quinton, said the couple had “an exceptional parent-child bond.”
The defence ran into a roadblock when Buckley tried to enter into evidence 20 letters of support from around the world.
Jerke said the support letters were from individuals who did not know the family or any details about the case.
“How could (they) … know the moral culpability of the offenders? That’s my job based on the evidence of what they did and how far along the line they are toward intention,” he said.
Crown prosecutor Lisa Weich said the letters are not character references and, in most cases, those sending support didn’t know anything about the case beyond what they’ve seen on social media.
“I would submit, sir, that sentencing is not a contest between how loudly people in the town square shout. By trying to introduce these letters, effectively, my friend is trying to convince the court of a sentencing position based on mob rule.”
The Stephans’ lawyer asked for no jail time for his clients, instead asking for a conditional or suspended sentence.
Sentencing is expected to get underway at 2 p.m. on Friday.
-With files from Quinn Campbell, Global News