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Former southern Alberta couple sentenced in son's death
Published Friday, June 24, 2016 8:23AM MDT Last Updated Friday, June 24, 2016 6:17PM MDT
A former southern Alberta couple convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life for their son have been sentenced by a Lethbridge judge.
David and Collet Stephan were charged in the death of their 19-month-old son, Ezekiel, who contracted a lung infection and later died in Alberta Children’s Hospital from meningitis.
The Stephans, whose family helped start a nutritional supplements company, thought the little boy had croup or the flu and they were using natural remedies to treat him.
The defence argued that the Stephans were loving, responsible parents who didn't realize how sick their son was and the prosecution said it was a clear-cut case of the couple failing to seek the required medical care.
The jury found the couple waited too long to get their son the help he needed and they were found guilty of the charges in April.
During a sentencing hearing on Thursday, Collet told the court that losing her son was the worst day of her life and she would have done things differently if she could.
"If I could turn back time and do something so that he would be here, I would."
She also said that the trial has been torture and the family has sold virtually everything to pay for legal costs.
Later on, she also alleged that Ezekiel's autopsy report had been falsified.
The couple's lawyer submitted 20 letters of support for the pair, gathered from an online appeal.
The judge ruled that the letters would not be admitted for consideration, saying that the court doesn't decide criminal responsibility by public debate.
The maximum sentence for failing to provide the necessaries of life is five years. The Crown suggested a sentence of three to four and a half years and the defence was seeking a conditional sentence.
Supporters of the couple gathered at the courthouse on Friday and packed into the courtroom for the decision.
Justice Rodney Jerke said that 'this is about what effects have been caused to put Ezekiel's life at risk. He was denied medical care. He could have lived.'
A protestor interrupted the proceedings and stormed the courtroom shouting 'stewardship of children is the parent's responsibility.' He was escorted out by guards.
The judge rendered his decision at about 3:30 p.m. and sentenced David Stephan to four months in jail. Collet was given a three month conditional sentence to be served in the community.
Collet will be under house arrest and will be required to report to a supervisor, remain in her home except for approved appointments and she must reside in Alberta.
Crown prosecutors Lisa Wiech and Clayton Giles addressed the media following the judge’s decision and spoke about why he sentenced the couple separately.
“There’s individual circumstances per each offender that the sentencing court can take into consideration into deciding moral blame worthiness or moral culpability and in this case Justice Jerke did just that,” said Wiech. “Some people might believe that this is an out of ordinary occurrence. There have been numerous cases where parents and care givers have been found guilty of failing to provide necessaries. It is the exact same standard in every case. It will continue to be the exact same standard until and unless parliament enacts new legislation.”
Collet Stephan was also ordered to publish a copy of the sentence report to the 'Prayers for Ezekiel' Facebook page.
(With files from CTV Lethbridge's Terry Vogt and Kaella Carr)