Verdict day for David and Collet Stephan, accused of failing to take dying toddler to doctor

An Alberta couple accused of failing to take their dying toddler to a doctor will learn today whether they are guilty following a retrial. 

David and Collet Stephan are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel, who died of bacterial meningitis in 2012. (Although unusual in everyday parlance, the word “necessaries” — not “necessities” — is the term the legal system uses.)

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Terry Clackson is set to deliver his decision in a Lethbridge courtroom at 1 p.m. MT Thursday.

Clackson heard evidence the parents knew the boy had meningitis and were told days before he stopped breathing to take Ezekiel to a hospital or doctor.

But David Stephan, who is representing himself, said in his final arguments that it was paramedics who caused Ezekiel’s death by improperly intubating the boy. 

This is the couple’s second trial. They were first convicted of the same charge by a Lethbridge jury in April 2016.

While the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the conviction, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the original trial judge erred in his instructions to the jury. 

The country’s top court found that given the polarizing evidence from Crown and defence medical experts and an “overabundance of medical evidence,” the trial judge’s instructions on how to apply the law to deliberations did not supply jurors with the tools they needed to properly decide the case.

The evidence

The Stephans testified that they believed Ezekiel had croup, an upper airway infection. They said they treated the toddler with natural remedies that included garlic, onion and horseradish added to a smoothie.

The judge heard evidence that the Stephans knew or at least suspected their ill boy had meningitis.

A receptionist for the naturopathic doctor testified Colett called in days before Ezekiel was rushed to hospital and said he might have a type of meningitis. Collet was told to take her son to a doctor or the hospital. Three days later, she came in and picked up an herbal remedy for the boy.

Ezekiel was so sick at that point his body had become stiff. Collet placed him on a mattress in the back of the car because she was unable to get him into his car seat.

A family friend who is a nurse testified that, three days before Ezekiel stopped breathing, Collet searched meningitis on the family’s laptop. The friend said she told Collet to get Ezekiel to a doctor.

On March 14, 2012, Ezekiel stopped breathing and the family called 911. By the time paramedics got involved, Ezekiel had no pulse and no neurological activity. After being airlifted to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, Ezekiel died.

Stephans wanted $4M

Last year, the couple asked a judge to delay their retrial until the Alberta government reimbursed them $1 million for what they claimed they had already spent on lawyers. That application was denied.

They also asked, unsuccessfully, for another $3 million to pay defence fees for this current trial. 

David Stephan has been publicly critical of the media and the justice system, including posting publicly about the jury, prosecutors and judges involved in their case.

He also became a regular at the trial for Calgary couple Jennifer and Jeromie Clark, who were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life as well as criminal negligence.

The Clarks’ toddler son died from malnourishment and a staph infection, which could have been treated had they taken him to see a doctor.