LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — 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, to 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.
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.
Ezekiel Stephan's parents were found guilty in his death. (Photo: Facebook)
They thought he had the croup or flu and treated him instead with hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish — even though a family friend who was a nurse said she thought 19-month-old Ezekiel might have meningitis.
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.
David and Collet Stephan were convicted in April in the death of their son. (Photo: The Canadian Press)
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," he said.
"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."
"By your conduct, you affected many people. It left a chilling impact on all of us."
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."
At the sentencing hearing, David Stephan said it was important for his three other children to have a father "who'll help raise them up."
"I am incredibly sorry I did not take him to the hospital."
"Looking back at it, had I known that it could possibly end up in this situation, I would not have put my child at risk,'' he told court.
Collet Stephan, 36, said her only purpose in life is to be a mother.
"My children are everything to me and I'm everything to my children,'' she said. "I am incredibly sorry I did not take him to the hospital.
"I just loved him so much."
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.
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.
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