Father Convicted of Manslaughter for Failing to Provide his Daughter with the Necessaries of Life
On July 29, 2021, Frank O’Dea (“O’Dea”) was found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to his toddler daughter and was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and manslaughter.
Victoria O’Dea died suddenly on April 20, 2015 weighing under 16 pounds (approximately the weight of a 7 month old). Coroner Hanif Kassam found the 21-month-old to be so malnourished that her internal organs were not surrounded by any fat. Paramedics were called by O’Dea to his basement apartment after his daughter stopped breathing.
Last month, O’Dea failed to appear for his sentencing hearing and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. The sentencing hearing continued in his absence despite O’Dea’s lawyer’s request to delay the hearing. Justice Deena Baltman sentenced O’Dea to 15 years in prison and stated:
“Serious crimes of violence against defenseless children deserve a strong response from the courts.”
Failure to Provide the Necessaries of Life
The offence of failing to provide the necessaries of life is set out in section 215 of the Criminal Code.
This section states the following:
215(1) Every one is under a legal duty
as a parent … to provide necessaries of life for a child under the age of sixteen years;
(2) Every person commits an offence who, being under a legal duty within the meaning of subsection (1), fails without lawful excuse to perform that duty, if
(a) (ii) the failure to perform the duty endangers the life of the person to whom the duty is owed, or causes or is likely to cause the health of that person to be injured permanently…
This section of the Criminal Code imposes liability on an objective basis. This means that the Crown prosecutor must provethe accused’s conduct was a marked departure from the conduct of a reasonable and prudent caregiver.
Criminal Negligence Causing Death
The offence of criminal negligence causing death is set out in section 219 of the Criminal Code.
The section states the following:
219 (1) Every one is criminally negligent who
- in doing anything, or
- in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do so, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.
In O’Dea’s case, the alleged actus reus (the conduct or omission that makes up the physical elements of a crime) was the omission by O’Dea to provide the necessities of life to his daughter. The alleged mens rea (the mental state) was that O’Dea’s actions or omissions showed a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others.
O’Dea was also charged with manslaughter, which is more specifically defined in sections 222 and 234 of the Criminal Code. This offence requires the Crown prosecutor to prove that the accused committed an unlawful act and that the unlawful act caused death.
In O’Dea’s case, the unlawful act refers to the failure to provide the necessaries of life to his daughter. The Crown prosecutor was required to establish that O’Dea’s conduct was a marked departure from the standard of the reasonable person.
A conviction for manslaughter required the Crown prosecutor to prove that O’Dea caused his daughter’s death by failing to provide her with the necessities of life and that her death was objectively foreseeable as measured against the standard of a reasonable person in the circumstances.
Risk of Serious Bodily Harm or Death was Objectively Foreseeable
The trial judge made the following findings:
- O’Dea had a legal duty to provide his daughter with the necessaries of life;
- O’Dea failed to provide adequate nourishment and medical care to his daughter; and
- O’Dea’s failure to do so caused his daughter’s death.
The issue at trial was whether a reasonable person in O’Dea’s circumstances would have foreseen that he was failing to nourish his daughter and was endangering her life.
In the circumstances of O’Dea’s case, the question was whether O’Dea was incapable of providing his daughter with the necessaries of life due to the head injury he sustained eight days prior to her death.
The trial judge held that O’Dea’s argument that he was incapable of caring for his daughter due to a head injury was inconsistent with all of the evidence submitted. Justice Baltman concluded that a “reasonable person in Mr. O’Dea’s circumstances would have foreseen that his failure to nourish Victoria was endangering her life”.
Justice Baltman determined that the Crown prosecutor had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that O’Dea’s conduct in failing to properly nourish and hydrate his daughter was akin to failing to provide necessities. Furthermore, it had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that O’Dea was guilty of criminal negligence causing death.
With respect to the charge of manslaughter, Justice Baltman concluded that the Crown prosecutor demonstrated that the risk of serious bodily harm or death was objectively foreseeable. Therefore, O’Dea was also found guilty of criminal negligence causing death.
Father Failed to Appear for Sentencing
O’Dea failed to appear for his sentencing hearing on September 17, 2021. Further to section 475(1)(b)(i) of the Criminal Code, Justice Baltman proceeded with the hearing and to impose a sentence on O’Dea as it was clear based on the evidence that O’Dea had voluntarily “absconded”.
The Crown prosecutor argued that O’Dea should receive a jail sentence of 20 years, while the defence argued that his sentence should be in the range of 10 to 16 years.
Justice Baltman described O’Dea’s conduct as “cold, deliberate, and prolonged torture”.
“For weeks on end, the offender deliberately withheld food and water from his daughter, and watcher her shrivel away. She was isolated and utterly dependent on Mr. O’Dea. … The offender has no remorse for his actions, and there is no suggestion his conduct arose from a psychiatric condition, severe depression, or a very low level of intellectual functioning.”
Given all of the circumstances, including the cruelty and suffering of the victim and O’Dea’s abandonment of his duty as a father, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Contact the Criminal Defence Lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP in Oshawa if you have been Charged with a Serious Criminal Offence
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