In 2012, David and Collet Stephan failed to provide the necessities of life to their toddler Ezekiel, who died of meningitis-induced hypoxia. Instead of calling an ambulance or traveling to a medical doctor, the couple instead gave pseudoscientific alternative products to Ezekiel, such as garlic, hot peppers, horseradish, maple syrup, berry juice, and miscellaneous naturopathic quackery for a period of over two weeks. It was only when Ezekiel stopped breathing that they decided to call an ambulance and take their son to a hospital and real medical help. The trial started in early March of 2016 and they got convicted for failing to provide the necessities of life. The father got four months in prison and the mother got three months house arrest. They both got 240 hours community service and a probation period of 2 years after their punishment is completed. The father was deemed especially guilty, as he showed no remorse and only got more naturopathic substances, whereas the mother actually researched the disease and contacted a nurse.
The parents, and especially David, has not fully accepted responsibility for their crime. Instead, they have offered a variety of excuses and tried to shift the blame to others. David claimed that the only way to discover that their son had meningitis was to have a 24-hour medical supervision, which is simply not true. He also claims that his son did not die of meningitis, but only because the ambulance was not well-stocked enough. One wonders what David thinks is the cause of the life-threatening breathing difficulties experienced by his son Ezekiel. It occurred before the ambulance arrived and a reasonable person would conclude that it was induced by the untreated meningitis. Yet David does not want to realize this, because that would effectively shatter his cognitive dissonance and force him to realize that he and his wife is responsible for the death of their son.
The lenient sentence caused broad outrage among scientific skeptics and medical doctors on the Internet and now the Crown prosecutors has decided to appeal the sentence. What is their reason behind this appeal? A newspaper article in the CBC Calgary written by Bill Graveland explains this decision in additional detail:
The Crown prosecutor Lisa Weich emphasized that the trial was a way to give a voice to Ezekiel. However, the prosecutors did not feel that a few months in jail for one of the parents, and a few months in house arrest for the other is appropriate. What grounds are the Crown prosecutors appealing the sentence on?
In other words, they think that the sentence is too lenient compared with the seriousness of the crime, that it does not fit with the offender responsibility. Presumably, the prosecutors think that the parents were much more responsible than the judge presiding over the case concluded. Furthermore, the prosecutors believe that the sentence is not harsh enough to show that the government rejects their actions or to deter future parents from doing this. Also, they reached the conclusion that the judge considered mitigating circumstances in a too favorable way, and did not give sufficient weight to those factors that would suggest a harsher punishment.
The date for the case to be heard in the Court of Appeal in Calgary has not been decided yet. But the most important take-home message here is that there will be another trial. Hopefully the Stephans will get a harsher punishment that better reflects their crime, but even if they do not, they will probably incur additional legal costs that they will have to pay.
Meanwhile, Collet Stephans risks jail if she does not post the sentencing decision on the Facebook page Prayers for Ezekiel and all other websites that she is using. The day after the previous article about their conviction and sentencing was posted here on Debunking Denialism, a link did show up on the Facebook page in question. However, it went to another websites maintained by the Stephans or their associates. It did have the full, unedited judgement, but it was preceded by concentrated propaganda that tries to remove the blame from the parents and put it squarely on financial cutbacks in the medical system and badly stocked ambulances. They do not take any responsibility and they do not show any remorse. Let us hope the appeal leads to a more suitable sentence.
References and further reading:
Grant, M. (2016). Collet Stephan, convicted in son’s meningitis death, may go to jail for not posting sentencing decision. CBC Calgary. Accessed: 2016-07-13. Cached here and here.
Graveland, B. (2016). Give Stephans tougher sentences in son’s meningitis death, Alberta Crown urges on appeal. CBC Calgary. Accessed: 2016-07-13. Cached here and here.