NEWS
06/13/2016 13:58 EDT | Updated 06/14/2017 01:12 EDT

Sentencing arguments set for parents of toddler who died of meningitis

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Sentencing arguments for a couple found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their toddler son who died of meningitis are to take place next week.

David Stephan, 32 and Collet Stephan, 35, whose family helped start a nutritional supplements company, were convicted by a jury in April in the 2012 death of 19-month-old Ezekiel.

Court heard the couple thought the boy had croup or the flu, so they treated him with hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish — even though a family friend who was a nurse told them she thought Ezekiel had meningitis.

The trial also heard the little boy was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress when Collet Stephan drove him from their rural home to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge, Alta., to pick up an echinacea mixture.

The defence argued the Stephans were loving, responsible parents who didn't realize how sick their son was.

The prosecution said it was a clear-cut case of the couple failing to seek the medical care that Ezekiel required.

The sentencing hearing is to take place June 23 and 24, but it's expected the judge will delay his decision until the fall.

In addition to the lawyers' submissions, Justice Rodney Jerke has released his finding of facts he will use to consider the couple's fate. 

"I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt ... that a reasonably prudent and ordinary person without medical training — in the circumstances of both Mr. Stephan and Ms. Stephan — would have foreseen that medical attention was required to maintain Ezekiel's life," Jerke writes in the June 8 document.

"That reasonably prudent and ordinary person would also have foreseen that failing to provide medical attention would endanger Ezekiel's life. A reasonably prudent person would have taken Ezekiel to a doctor," he continues.

"Mr. and Mrs. Stephan did not provide Ezekiel with medical attention. This was a failure of their legal duty to provide necessaries of life. It was a marked departure from the required standard of care.

"It is morally blameworthy conduct."

Jerke notes in his findings there's no doubt that the Stephans were "caring and attentive parents and had no intention of harming Ezekiel."

But, he says, Ezekiel was under the charge of both of them.

"Ezekiel was unable, by reason of his age, to withdraw from their charge and unable, by reason of his age, to provide himself with the necessaries of life." 

The Stephans, who now live in British Columbia, have remained free since their conviction.

The maximum sentence for failing to provide the necessaries of life is five years in prison.

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