Re-Trial Underway for Couple Charged in Son’s Death

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP


The re-trial for David and Collet Stephan has begun in Lethbridge Provincial Court, in Alberta.  The couple are each facing one count for failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 18-month-old son Ezekiel, who died of bacterial meningitis in 2012.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The Stephans were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son at trial in 2016.  David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail.  His wife, Collet, was sentenced to three months of house arrest.  She was only to be allowed to leave her home for medical appointments and to attend church.  They were also to be on probation for two years, and were ordered to complete 240 hours of community service.

The couple had used natural remedies to treat their son rather than take him to a doctor when he had become severely ill.  They made smoothies out of hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion.  The Stephans finally called for medical assistance once their son stopped breathing.  Ezekiel was rushed to a local hospital, but died after being transported by air ambulance to a Children’s Hospital in Calgary. 

We have previously blogged about the outcome of the Stephan’s appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal.  On appeal, the Stephans argued that their convictions should be overturned because the trial judge erred by allowing too many Crown experts to testify, the medical jargon used during the trial confused the jurors, and the defence expert’s testimony was restricted.

At that time, the majority of the Appeal Court dismissed all grounds of appeal, including the position that the Stephans’ Charter rights had been violated because of the unreasonable delay between the time they were charged and the date they were convicted.

However, Justice Brian O’Ferrall did not agree with the majority of the Appeal Court and wrote a dissenting opinion in favour of a new trial for the Stephans.  It was Justice O’Ferrall’s opinion that the trial judge’s charge to the jury was confusing and misleading. 

The Stephans were granted an automatic right to have the Supreme Court of Canada hear their appeal as one of the three judges on the appeal panel dissented. 

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA?

In an unusual practice, the Supreme Court of Canada, after hearing all arguments on appeal, provided an immediate ruling from the bench.  On behalf of the highest court in Canada, Justice Michael Moldaver ruled that the trial judge did not properly instruct the jurors and therefore allowed the appeal, quashed the convictions and ordered a new trial.

PRE-TRIAL PROCEEDINGS

Prior to the commencement of their new trial, the Stephans filed an application requesting $1 million to cover their past legal expenses and $3 million to be placed in trust for any future defence fees.  The Stephans claimed that they had liquidated their assets, owed money to their previous lawyer, and did not have the funds necessary to receive a fair re-trial. 

The couple also filed applications to have certain statements withheld from the re-trial.  All of these applications have been denied. 

During the couple’s pre-trial hearing, they attempted to have statements exempted that they made to police, hospital staff and child welfare workers at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  They argued that they were tired, stressed and felt pressured by the presence of the police when they made those statements.  Justice J.D. Rooke denied these applications as well as he could not find any breaches of the Stephans’ rights.

The Stephans also submitted additional applications to delay their re-trial.  These requests were denied by the judge and the re-trial was ordered to proceed as scheduled on June 3, 2019. 

Prior to the commencement of the pre-trial, David Stephan posted a video on his Facebook page stating:

The deck is stacked against us huge.  … I don’t have high hopes.  I anticipate that we may just find ourselves again before the Supreme Court of Canada and hopefully find some justice there like we did the last time.

COUPLE SENTENCED IN A SIMILAR DECISION

Last fall, a jury found Jeromie and Jennifer Clark guilty of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 14-month-old son, John.  They failed to seek medical attention until the day before he died from an infection in November 2013.

The boy was found to be malnourished and died from a staph infection. 

The Crown requested a sentence of four to five years for the couple, while their lawyers recommended a more lenient sentence in the range of probation to eight months in jail.

Earlier this month, the couple were each sentenced to 32 months in prison.  Justice Paul Jeffrey stated:

A period of incarceration is necessary to deter other parents who may similarly recklessly forgo proper and timely medical care for their child.

We will continue to follow the developments in the Stephans’ court case and will provide updates in this blog as they become available.

In the meantime, if you are facing 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.