06/25/2019 09:09 EDT

Father Accused In Son's Meningitis Death Says There Were No Obvious Signs

David Stephan's 19-month-old child died seven years ago in Alberta.

David Rossiter/The Canadian Press
David Stephan and his wife, Collet Stephan, are seen here arriving at a courthouse in Lethbridge, Alta., on March 10, 2016.

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A father accused in his son’s death testified Monday that the sick boy’s condition worsened after he had appeared to be doing better, but not to the point where his parents were worried.

David Stephan took the stand in a southern Alberta courtroom where he and his wife, Collet, are accused of failing to get medical attention for the toddler.

The couple are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died of bacterial meningitis in 2012.

The Stephans treated their son with herbal remedies and called an ambulance when he stopped breathing.

A jury convicted the couple in 2016, but the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a second trial last year.

Stephan, who is acting as his own lawyer, spent more than three hours giving what amounted to a monologue before a Lethbridge judge, who is hearing the case without a jury.

Stephan testified that he and his wife thought Ezekiel had croup and appeared to be recovering at their home near Glenwood, Alta.

Two weeks before he was rushed to hospital, the toddler’s condition had worsened to the point that they discussed whether their son should get medical attention, but they didn’t think it was serious enough, Stephan said. 

“I didn’t see a need. The idea was there on the back-burner. There was nothing that was concerning or alarming as a parent,” he said.

“There was nothing apparent.”

‘Shocked and confused’

Stephan said his wife did call a friend who was a nurse and a midwife. The friend mentioned the possibility Ezekiel might have meningitis but she wasn’t sure. And with a lack of symptoms, Ezekiel probably “would be turned away” if he sought medical attention.

Stephan said he was “100 per cent convinced” that Ezekiel had later recovered, but he soon noticed the child had an odd breathing pattern. Then he stopped breathing.

“He went down for his nap and he woke up in crisis. His breathing started to get worse,” said Stephan. “I was shocked and confused. He became very tired right before he stopped breathing.”

Stephan called 911, but when Ezekiel started breathing again, the father declined an ambulance.

About a half hour later, Stephan again called 911 as the family was driving to a hospital. They were met on the highway by an ambulance. Ezekiel was eventually airlifted to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary.

‘We were dumbfounded’

Stephan testified he and his wife remained hopeful. “We hoped he’d be leaving hospital in just a couple of days.”

Stephan said while they were in Calgary, they were told children’s services believed there might be neglect and there would be an investigation.

“We were dumbfounded.”

Under cross-examination by Crown attorney Britta Kristensen, Stephan said he had learned from his wife that her friend suggested Ezekiel might have meningitis.

“You were made aware that bacterial meningitis was quite serious?” Kristensen asked.

“Yes I was made aware that with bacterial meningitis you generally have 24 hours before it became a crisis,” Stephan replied.

“Do you recall being told that it was a potentially, deadly condition?” Kristensen continued.

“That would have been communicated to me.”

Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Parenting is not like looking into a crystal ball.Jason Demers, defence lawyer

Stephan also told court that Ezekiel and his older brother didn’t have routine visits with a pediatrician or family doctor, and they didn’t get standard vaccinations.

Kristensen asked Stephan if he was aware that the vaccinations would have protected against meningitis.

“No,” said Stephan. “I wasn’t really aware of what meningitis was.”

Defence lawyer Jason Demers said in a brief opening statement that the Stephans didn’t do anything wrong.

“Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Parenting is not like looking into a crystal ball,” Demers said.

“Taking Ezekiel to hospital any sooner than the Stephans did may not have made a difference.”

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