LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — The jury in the case of an Alberta couple charged in the meningitis death of their toddler son will begin a second day of deliberations today.
David Stephan, 32, and Collet Stephan, 35, are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel in 2012.
The four-man, eight-woman jury deliberated for about five hours Monday before retiring for the night.
In his charge to the jury, Justice Rodney Jerke told them to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused's guilt and not to make their decisions based on "sympathy, prejudice or fear."
The couple testified they believed that Ezekiel had croup or flu, so they treated him for 2 1/2 weeks with remedies that included hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish.
He eventually stopped breathing and died a couple of days after being rushed to hospital.
The defence argued the couple were loving, responsible parents who simply didn't realize how sick the little boy was. The Crown said they didn't do enough to ensure Ezekiel received the medical treatment he required, noting they had been warned by a friend who was a registered nurse that the boy likely had meningitis.
The case has drawn international attention, due in part because of the societal divide between those who do and don't believe in the natural medicine movement.
A website called "Stand 4 Truth" has been providing daily updates on the trial and comes with a link allowing people to donate to a fund for the couple.
"In the event of a guilty verdict, the Stephans' children will likely be separated from them for up to five years," said one recent post.
"They will have permanent criminal records and will likely never have the opportunity to provide adequately for their family when they do get out of prison."
David Stephan declined comment Monday, but he told The Canadian Press in an interview before the trial that he believed he and his wife were charged because they didn't vaccinate their children and, in part, because his family helped start a nutritional supplements company.
His father, Anthony Stephan, co-founded Truehope Nutritional Support in Raymond, Alta., in 1996 after his wife committed suicide.
The company's website says the woman and some of the couple's 10 children had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so Anthony Stephan formed the company with a friend to find a natural treatment.
The company says one of their products, EMPowerplus, helps treat bipolar disorder, depression and even autism.
Truehope fought to be able to sell EMPowerplus for more than a decade before an Alberta judge ruled that it could be sold here as a drug. It’s now shipped to more than 100 countries.
David Stephan, a Truehope vice-president, said he heard so many stories from parents about vaccinations causing autism in their children that he and his wife decided they wouldn't vaccinate their own kids.
He said that still held true for their three remaining boys — eight-year-old Ezra, three-year-old Ephraim and one-year-old Enoch.
"We're actually more adamant than we ever were," he said in the pre-trial interview, adding they are a typical, loving family — not criminals.
"If everybody could see it from exactly how we saw it, they would have a full understanding and be like, 'Oh wow, you were basically blindsided and didn't understand what was really going on.' "
The maximum penalty for failing to provide the necessaries of life is five years in prison.
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