Guilty verdict for southern Alberta couple in death of infant son
David and Collet Stephan, the parents of Ezekiel, a toddler who died in 2012 of bacterial meningitis, have both been found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life by a jury in Lethbridge.
The jury of eight women and four men found the couple guilty on Tuesday afternoon after deliberating for a majority of the day.
Ezekiel had been sick for about two and a half weeks before he died at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in March 2012. His parents had been using natural remedies to treat him for what they believed was croup.
The Stephans believed that their methods were working and believed their experience would carry them through.
“Do we have a formal education? No. Are we educated in this? Absolutely. Has it worked for us in every single scenario before this? Yes,” David Stephan told police in an interview back in 2012.
Collet said that she did consult with a medical professional, her birth attendant, but never took Ezekiel to see a physician first-hand, fearing that he could catch something else.
She told police back in 2012 that her birth attendant suspected that Ezekiel may have had something more serious than croup.
“She suspected meningitis because how lethargic he was and he wasn’t as alert and he was starting to stiffen up.”
In response, the Stephans used a myriad of supplements to try and help Ezekiel recover, including homemade smoothies made with hot peppers, garlic, onion and horseradish.
The couple believed their methods were working, but Ezekiel took a turn for the worse and stopped breathing, prompting them to call 911.
Ezekiel was eventually flown to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, where he died four days later.
After a seven-week trial and more than a day of deliberation, a jury found that the couple waited too long to get their son the medical help he needed.
Family members of the Stephans did not take the ruling well.
“My heart goes out to them,” said Noelle Jellison, David’s aunt. “They didn’t see what they were supposed to see because everybody else thinks they missed something but, unfortunately, they’re going to pay for it.”
Medical experts say that it is a hard lesson for any parent to learn – that they may not always know what is best for their child.
“This is a very strong message to parents that they have a duty to their children and their duty is to act in the best interest of the child, not to give in to their own belief system,” said Juliet Guichon, a medical bioethicist with the University of Calgary.
A message has also been sent to many who support natural medicine as well.
David and Collet admitted that everyone in the family, including Ezekiel took natural supplements every day.
The boy was not vaccinated and had never seen a doctor because Collet delivered him at home, as she did with all her other children.
David works for Truehope Nutritional, a supplement company based in Raymond. The company was founded by his family after his mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder, committed suicide.
He said that his siblings were all exhibiting signs of the disorder as well, but they subsided when they started taking the supplements that the family created.
Collet’s trust in natural medicine began when her brother, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour, lived another seven years after turning down conventional treatment.
The couple is expected to be in court to set a date for sentencing on June 13.
The maximum penalty they could face is a five year jail sentence, along with the loss of custody of their three other children.