Judge urges jury in toddler case to use 'common sense'

David and Collet Stephan's nearly 19-month-old son Ezekiel died in March 2012

Ezekiel Stephan, a 19-month-old boy who died of meningitis in 2012, is shown in a family handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

Ezekiel Stephan, a 19-month-old boy, died of meningitis in 2012, is shown in a family handout photo.

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — The fate of a husband and wife who treated their toddler with natural remedies including hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish before he died of meningitis is now in the hands of a jury.

David and Collet Stephan’s nearly 19-month-old son Ezekiel died in March 2012.

Justice Rodney Jerke stressed to jury members that they use “good common sense” before he sent them off to consider the case.

He said the Crown needed to prove three things: that the Stephans were under a legal duty to provide necessaries of life to Ezekiel, that they failed to provide those necessaries and that failure endangered the tot’s life.

Court heard how the couple believed that Ezekiel was suffering from croup when he first took ill.

They treated him with home remedies over 2 1/2 weeks before he stopped breathing and was rushed to a nearby hospital.

Ezekiel was then transferred to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary where doctors detected little brain activity and he died a few days later.

The Crown says the Stephans didn’t do enough to ensure Ezekiel received the medical treatment he required and had been warned that the boy likely had meningitis.

A friend of the Stephans, who is a registered nurse, testified she told Colett Stephan that he might have viral meningitis and advised the boy be taken to a doctor.

Court documents entered in the trial say just days before Ezekiel was rushed to hospital his family was giving him fluids through an eyedropper because he wouldn’t eat or drink.

The jury has also heard that Collet Stephan researched treatments for viral meningitis online and the next day picked up an echinacea mixture from a naturopath in Lethbridge.

Court was told Ezekiel was too stiff to sit in his car seat and had to lie on a mattress as they drove to the naturopath’s office.

In her final submission, prosecutor Lisa Weich told the jury that this isn’t a case of murder or manslaughter but rather failure to provide the little boy with the help he needed.

“Clearly they do not want to be held responsible for the decisions that they made while watching Ezekiel. What parent would?” she said.

“No one wants to think that they had any part and that they had any responsibility in acting inappropriately when it comes to taking care of their child.”

Weich said there’s no question that the Stephans loved their son but they failed him by not getting him the help he needs.

Defence lawyer Shawn Buckley said the jury has to decide if the Stephans’ actions were a “marked departure of what a reasonable and prudent parent would do.”

“Did they seek medical attention and did they seek it soon enough?” he asked in his closing arguments.

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