April 25, 2016 - 8:00 PM
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. - The guilt or innocence of a couple charged in the bacterial meningitis death of their toddler son in Alberta four years ago is now in the hands of a jury.
David Stephan, 32, and Collet Stephan, 35, are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to nearly 19-month-old Ezekiel in March 2012.
Justice Rodney Jerke spent two hours Monday in his charge to the jury, cautioning the four men and eight women that they had to be convinced beyond a "reasonable doubt" to find the couple guilty.
"You must not make your decisions based on sympathy, prejudice or fear," said Jerke. "You are the judges of the facts. You must not use your own ideas about what the law should be."
Jerke told the jurors there is "no magical formula" on how little or how much of the evidence from witnesses to rely on in reaching a verdict.
"You must use your good, common sense."
The couple believed that Ezekiel was suffering from croup or the flu. They treated him with remedies that included smoothies containing hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish over 2 1/2 weeks before he stopped breathing and was rushed to a nearby hospital.
Ezekiel was then taken to the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary where doctors detected little brain activity and he died a couple of days later.
The Crown says the Stephans didn't do enough to ensure Ezekiel received the medical treatment that he required and had been warned that the boy likely had meningitis.
As has been over the course of the six-week trial, the courtroom was full. More than 60 supporters filed in, many with crying children in tow, and sat behind the Stephans. Several gave Collet Stephan a hug during the break.
It was clear how emotional the issue was for many. Collet Stephan cried through much of her testimony and was joined in her grief by some supporters and at least two members of the jury who cried along with her.
Several times the couple's supporters laughed at some of the questions from the prosecution or at answers from Crown witnesses. Justice Jerke sent out the jury after some particularly loud outbursts and lectured spectators to maintain a sense of decorum, saying their disruptions were a distraction to both the lawyers and the jury.
A friend of the Stephans, who is a registered nurse, testified she told the mother 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 the day before he stopped breathing.
The jurors will be sequestered until a verdict is reached.
The maximum penalty for failing to provide the necessaries of life is five years in prison.
— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016