Court Rules New Trial for Couple Convicted in Child’s Death

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that a couple convicted of manslaughter in the suspected starvation of their two-year-old daughter should receive a new trial to put forward new evidence.

A jury convicted Sean and Maria Hosannah in October 2014 following the death of their 27-month-old daughter, Matinah, in February 2011.  Maria Hossanah was sentenced to two years in jail and her husband was sentenced to two years less a day. 

In February 2011, Matinah stopped breathing while in her mother’s arms.  Her father called 911, but paramedics could not resuscitate Matinah and she was pronounced dead in hospital.  Both of her parents, Sean and Maria Hosannah, were charged with manslaughter for allegedly failing to provide their daughter with the necessaries of life. 

Following their convictions, the Hosannahs began the appeal process and were therefore released from custody pending their appeal.

THE TRIAL

At trial, the Crown prosecution argued that the Hosannahs had failed to provide Matinah with the necessaries of life by not feeding her properly or obtaining medical attention for her. 

The jury heard evidence that Matinah was underweight and poorly developed.  She was unable to walk or crawl by the age of two.  A family doctor allegedly told the parents to take her to a specialist, however, Matinah had not received any medical attention in the last year of her life.

The Hosannahs defence was that they were good parents and were distressed by their daughter’s death.

The prosecution’s case rested largely on the evidence of Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Pollanen.  Dr. Pollanen testified that Matinah was severely malnourished and lacked protein.  She was also found to have suffered from rickets and a blood disorder caused by vitamin deficiency.  Matinah also showed signs of chronic and severe asthma.  According to Dr. Pollanen, Matinah suffered an asthma attack while in a critical state of illness due to protein malnutrition and vitamin deficiency, which led to a lack of oxygen, shock and ultimately death.

Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, a pediatric nutritionist, testified that Matinah’s protein and vitamin deficiencies were the result of an unbalanced diet that stunted her growth.  He concurred with Dr. Pollanen that she was severely malnourished.

The defendants did not submit any evidence from a medical expert to challenge the prosecution’s expert reports. 

At the trial, the court learned that the Hosannahs maintained a strict vegetarian diet and only ate to live.  They also had an aversion to doctors, vaccinations and were suspicious that their daughter had been poisoned at birth.  Although the prosecution accepted that the Hosannahs did not want to hurt their daughter, it was argued that the choices they made led to their daughter’s death.

THE APPEAL

On appeal, the Hossanahs were allowed to present new evidence from two experts.

Fresh evidence can be entered on appeal if it is in the interest of justice, while preserving the integrity of the criminal justice process according to section 683(1)(d) of the Criminal Code. 

Dr. Michael Shkrum, a forensic pathologist, disagreed with Dr. Pollanen’s finding that asthma played a part in Matinah’s death.  According to Dr. Shkrum, there was no evidence that she suffered from protein malnutrition and he found that Matinah died of congestive heart failure due to her enlarged heart, conceivably caused by anemia and/or vitamin D deficiency. 

A second expert in pediatric bone disorders and genetics, Dr. Miller, confirmed that Matinah suffered from severe vitamin D deficiency rickets, which severely compromised her health and affected her growth. 

According to the Hosannahs’ lawyer at their appeal, Dr. Pollanen’s report relied upon a blood sample that was taken while doctors attempted to resuscitate Matinah. Matinah had more than half a litre of saline injected in her bloodstream to revive her, which may have diluted her blood and could explain her blood protein levels.

The judges of the Court of Appeal concluded that had the new evidence been admitted at trial it may have affected the verdict.

Although the jury could have concluded that reasonable parents would be aware of the absence of protein in their child’s diet and the risk that it posed, a jury could conclude that a reasonable parent may not realize that their child’s diet lacked adequate vitamins D and B12.

The proposed evidence is relevant because of its tendency to show what caused the deceased to die and, by inference, whether her death originated in any unlawful conduct by the appellants.

The Court of Appeal accepted the Hossanahs’ new reports, allowed the appeal of their convictions and ordered a new trial.

We will continue to follow the developments of this case as it proceeds to trial and will report on any updates in this blog.

In the meantime, if you are facing criminal charges or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services.  We are available when you need us most.