Alberta meningitis trial: father gets 4 months in jail, mother 3 months house arrest
A couple who failed to get proper medical treatment for their son who died of bacterial meningitis are going to spend time in custody.
A judge in southern Alberta has sentenced David Stephan to four months in jail and his wife, Collet, is being given three months of strict house arrest — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She will only be allowed to go out for medical appointments and church.
Both will be on probation for two years after they complete their sentences and will have to complete 240 hours of community service by 2018.
“This trial and this sentence is to ensure that the community standard of care set by the Criminal Code is followed,” Crown prosecutor Lisa Weich said outside after the sentencing. “Some people might believe that this is an out of ordinary occurrence. There have been numerous cases where parents and caregivers have been found guilty of failing to provide necessaries. It is the exact same standard in every case.
“While Justice Jerke did not find as a fact that Mr. and Mrs. Stephan’s conduct caused Ezekiel to die, he did in fact, unfortunately pass away and he will not be able to experience any of the highs and lows that people encounter as they grow into adults.”
TIMELINE: Ezekiel Stephan’s final days
The Stephans, whose family helped start a nutritional supplements company, were found guilty in April of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son.
They thought he had the croup or the flu and treated him instead with hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish–even though a family friend who was a nurse said she thought 18-month-old Ezekiel might have meningitis.
Watch below: The case of David and Collet Stephan in the death of their son Ezekiel has been a long and emotional one. Global’s David Boushy looks back to how it all began.
Justice Rodney Jerke said that although both parents were “wilfully blind” to the boy’s condition, the father was especially so.
He also said David Stephan, 33, seemed more concerned about being punished than about his inaction when his son was sick.
“Mr. Stephan’s post-conviction actions demonstrate a complete lack of remorse. To this day he refuses to admit his actions had any impact,” Jerke told the court in Lethbridge.
The judge said David Stephan also had greater moral culpability because he called his father instead of 911 when the toddler stopped breathing.
Watch below: Global’s ongoing coverage in the trial of David and Collet Stephan
Eric Sveinson, David’s brother-in-law, said he didn’t agree with the assessment that David lacked remorse, but was thankful Jerke showed some leniency.
“I feel like he did state very clearly that he would’ve done anything different if he could’ve turned back the clocks,” Sveinson said. “We’re really sad that David has to go for the four months but it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Jerke described the Stephans as usually being “caring and attentive parents,” but not at the time Ezekiel was ailing.
“Any reasonable and prudent person would have taken action. … This is far beyond a child that has the sniffles.”
He addressed the couple, who both broke into tears upon hearing the judge’s decision: “By your conduct you affected many people. It left a chilling impact on all of us.”
The prosecution had asked for a sentence in the range of three to 4 1/2 years, but Jerke said that was too much. But he also said he could not comply with the defence request for a suspended sentence because of the aggravating factor that Ezekiel was a “vulnerable young child.”
Watch below: David Stephan’s brother-in-law Eric Sveinson speaks to media following the sentencing of the southern Alberta parents.
The Stephans were given a hero’s welcome by tearful supporters when they arrived at the courthouse Friday with their three children.
People in a crowd of about 70 shouted “We love you” as the couple hugged and thanked supporters. David Stephan told them he appreciated their love at a time when what he called “misinformation” had turned people against him and his wife.
A handful of counter-protesters, most of them medical doctors, set up across the courtyard.
“You can not impose your personal views on your children in a way that endangers their life,” said Dr. Kirsten Jones, a general surgeon from Lethbridge. “Those children have a right to grow up to become independently thinking adults and to form their own moral judgments at that time.”
On Thursday, the court heard a video interview between David Stephan and the producers of the documentary “Vaxxed,” in which he criticized the justice system for targeting his family.
Watch below: Vaxxed doc producers interview Lethbridge couple guilty in son’s meningitis death
He called it a “parental rights issue,” blamed the media and called for public support at a rally outside the courthouse on Friday.
The trial heard the little boy was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress when his mother drove him from their rural home to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge to pick up an echinacea mixture.
WATCH ABOVE: The Crown prosecutor in the trial of David and Collet Stephan speaks to media after the sentencing.
The Stephans never called for medical assistance until Ezekiel stopped breathing. He was rushed to hospital, but died after being transported to Calgary Children’s Hospital.
With files from Global’s Liam Nixon, Reid Fiest and Erika Tucker
© 2016 The Canadian Press