Retrial Begins For Quacks Who Let Their Son Die of Meningitis

David and Collet Stephan let their son Ezekiel suffer from bacterial meningitis for two weeks before he died while only giving him quackery products. They were both convicted for failing to provide the necessaries for life. However, their conviction in the Court of Appeals was overturned on a technicality and now their retrial has begun.

David Stephan questions the qualifications of the medical personnel and proposes more and more convoluted conspiracy theories. Doctors that testify during the court proceedings clearly refute the claims made by David about the true cause of death of Ezekiel. There was no oxygen deprivation and the cause of death was bacterial meningitis (and an associated lung infection). One pediatrician testified that it was the worst brain scan she has ever seen and clearly showing the signs of meningitis.

The retrial is expected to continue into the summer.

Background

19-month-old Ezekiel Stephan died of meningitis in late 2012. His parents, David and Collet Stephan, are notorious anti-vaccine and alternative medicine proponents. They refused to take him to see a doctor and let him suffer for two weeks while only giving him quackery products containing various vegetables and other supplements as well as a priesthood blessing. Only when Ezekiel was near death did they try to drive him to a hospital. They met up with an ambulance on the way to the hospital, but Ezekiel’s life could not be saved. The parents were prosecuted and convicted for failing to provide the necessaries of life in 2016. The father got four months in prison, and the mother got three months of house arrest. She got a more lenient sentence because she had made several efforts to find out what was wrong with Ezekiel, including Internet searchers and consulting a health worker (a midwife).

This was the start of a very drawn-out path through the Canadian justice system. Both sides appealed the results. The parents wanted to be freed while the Crown prosecutors wanted a harsher punishment. David Stephan appeared remorseless and just continued to sell naturopathic quackery products. In the appeal trial for the parent’s appeal, the conviction was upheld. David Stephan now started getting booted from various Health Expos. Presumably, they did not want to have a person convicted for failing to provide the basic requirements for life for his child promoting products on their venue.

However, the judges were not all in agreement, which automatically gave them the ability to appeal to the State Supreme Court of Canada. Their conviction was overturned based on a technicality. They were now set to have their case reheard in the court of appeals.

The legal proceedings have taken a toll on the personal finances of David and Collet. They have allegedly been forced to liquidate all of their assets just to pay for legal assistance. They recently demanded 4 million Canadian dollars from the government to cover existing and future legal costs. They court rejected their demand.

Their retrial started June 3, 2019, despite multiple attempts by the Stephans to delay it.

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David and Collet Stephan will represent themselves

This case has been moving through the court system since they were first charged in the low courts in March of 2016. This has lead to substantial legal costs for David and Collet. According to documents submitted to the court, they have already spent around 1 million Canadian dollars (~754 975 USD) and David projected that the cost of lawyers up to the trial would add another big chunk to their total debt. Presumably, the trial itself could incur additional legal fees.

According to an affidavit submitted to the court, they “have liquidated their assets, are in debt to previous counsel from the last trial and do not have the money to obtain the needed assistance required to provide them with a fair trial.” It would thus appear, if we take this at face value, that David and Collet Stephan have sold their belongings in order to pay of legal fees and would still be in debt to their previous lawyer at the time the affidavit was submitted. They are also realistically looking at even more costs.

In early 2019, they submitted a request to the court to get 4 million Canadian dollars (~3 019 900 USD) to pay for existing debts to lawyers and for future costs for the retrial that has just begun. According to a video David filmed on Facebook, the money would also go towards paying alleged medical experts to testify on their side. The court declined their request.

This is likely to be the core reason for why David and Collet have decided to represent themselves in court. The retrial judge spent some time explaining the structure of the trial process to ensure that they would understand it. However, they will have some help from lawyers that represented or offered to represent them earlier. According to news reporting, they would “help from time to time”.

Representing yourself in court is risky. The court system and legal theory is quite complex and cases that have gone through several trials at different levels has likely accumulated substantial documentation that one would do well to have a commanding understanding of. Thus, deciding to not have lawyers representing them could cost them a conviction. Granted, the punishment they got was very lenient as it was only a few months in prison and house arrest, so it would not cost them that much to lose the case in terms of punishment. Paying a lot of money for lawyers and then lose the case anyway would be a kind of sunken cost where even more money is wasted to no avail.

David Stephan declined an ambulance

During the court proceedings, David testified that he did not see a reason to call an ambulance when Ezekiel got worse. It was allegedly in the back of his mind, but not deemed vital enough for him to act.

New details that were not covered earlier by Debunking Denialism has emerged. In the first 911 call made by David Stephan, he declines an offer to send an ambulance to their location. Ezekiel was being taken to the hospital and they had stopped at the side of the road and called 911 because he was not breathing. During the conversation, Collet is engaged in some form of CPR and he starts breathing on his own again.

David tells the 911 operator that Ezekiel has had “croup for a week but overcame it”, so the operator never knew that the child had meningitis. There was an ambulance available in Glenwood, Alta that was close to their location. Perhaps, if David had not declined an ambulance, Ezekiel might have survived. There is no guarantee that he would have survived, of course, since the meningitis has so far gone, but this is yet another segment of this tragic series of events where they could have helped their son and given him a better chance at surviving.

An ambulance was eventually sent to their car after a second 911 call.

No damage was probably done to toddler in ambulance

David Stephan has claimed for years that the real fault for the death of his son Ezekiel lies with the ambulance and not their failure to take him to a hospital. He insists that it had been better for the parents to take Ezekiel to the hospital in their car instead of handing him over to paramedics onboard the ambulance. This is initially implausible as trained medical personnel are likely to be better than parents at giving life-saving treatment and ambulances can use sirens and other methods to avoid traffic. They are probably also better at driving in emergencies than parents who very likely are scared and emotionally impacted by the events.

During the first days of the retrial, David appears to have spent “hours” cross-examining the paramedic in the ambulance that eventually picked up their dying son. The paramedic responded by highlighting that the treatment for cardiac arrest is defibrillation and that the ambulance had that equipment. We can probably assume that the car that the parents drove did not have defibrillator. The paramedic also highlighted that using a defibrillator would not have worked anyway because Ezekiel had already flat-lined (no heart contraction). Unlike television and movies, a flat-line cannot be “shocked back” to life.

The paramedic also testified that there was no damage done to Ezekiel during the ambulance ride. This likely refutes the story that David Stephan has been telling about the true cause of death.

Child doctor calls brain scan the most devastating she has ever seen

Several doctors testified during the trial.

The medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was bacterial meningitis and a lung infection. He also highlights that the cause of death was not oxygen deprivation and that there was no sign of brain damage that could indicate lack of oxygen. He was even quoted as saying “The issue of the lack of oxygen — was answered totally by the pathology” and “If there was oxygen deprivation injuries, I would have seen it. It was not in the brain.”

This effectively disproves the core alternative model that David Stephan has put forward and believed for years. David tried to push a conspiracy theory noting that a letter was sent from an Alberta Justice to the office of the medical examiner warning that David and Collet may be part of the sovereign citizen movement and may be armed and dangerous. The medical examiner stated forcefully that nothing of the sort would impact his medical work. David and the lawyer for Collet spent seven hours interviewing the medical examiner and challenged his credentials during the same day.

The pediatrician who directed the case of Ezekiel testified that her review of the CT scan, blood work, a physical examination and information from the parents made her conclude that the child was suffering from bacterial meningitis. David Stephan arrogantly challenged the pediatrician during cross-examination, questioned her qualifications and even ability to understand what is seen in a CT scan.

Thus, from the testimony of the pediatrician in-charge and the medical examiner, we can conclude that Ezekiel had bacterial meningitis. This, together with the fact that the Stephans are anti-vaccine, leads us to the inevitable conclusion that had they agreed to get Ezekiel vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, they would have severely reduced the risk of him getting meningitis. The decision to refuse vaccinations is a decision and a decision that can lead to life-crushing consequences.

Statements to child abuse consultant

In 2012, David and Collet Stephan talked to an individual who was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer and child abuse consultant. The court ruled that these statements were given freely and voluntarily and so will be admissible during the retrial.

David told reporters that “Our reaction to Justice Rooke dismissing our applications? He’s basically picked them all apart piece by piece, taken major issue over any of the controversial ones that would expose the RCMP corruption and hospital corruption in engineering the case against us.” In other words, David alleges that there is a vast government conspiracy against him with members all across the government, such as police, hospital staff and the Crown prosecutors.

What could happen now?

The trial was originally scheduled for four weeks, but it looks like it will be extended into the summer. The judge said that “You will have me in the month of July…unhappily” and “I’m hearing this case until it’s done. We’ll sit until August if we have to.” This is likely beneficial to the robustness of the court case as all relevant aspects of the case will be looked at. It will also marshal more evidence for a conviction and make an appeal to the Supreme Court less likely to be approved. Regardless of outcome, the court case will cost them more and more money. One could argue that this is a punishment in itself, but it is sad that it impacts their remaining children.

It is also likely that the martyrdom status of the Stephans could increase, although the fact that David has been kicked out from different wellness shows suggests that this could also not be the case. The fact that David Stephan arrogantly questioned the qualifications of the medical examiner and pediatrician will not serve him well because he likely lacks sufficient medical knowledge to make a convincing case, especially since it is tied to a lot of conspiracy theories.

Hopefully the long-term effects of this case is that more and more guilty parents who fail to provide the basic requirements for life will be convicted. One can also hope for this kind of crimes would decrease over time, but considering the popularity of fake treatments, this is not a given.

References

CBC News. (2019). Statements made by David and Collet Stephan admissible in court, judge rules. CBC News. Accessed: 2019-06-30. (cache)

Grant, Meghan. (2019). David and Collet Stephan treated dying toddler with herbs and religious blessings, retrial hears. CBC News. Accessed: 2019-06-30. (cache)

The Canadian Press. (2019). ‘My son’s not breathing’: Father made frantic 911 call before toddler’s meningitis death. CBC News. Accessed: 2019-06-30. (cache)

The Canadian Press. (2019). Paramedic testifies at Stephans’ retrial that no damage was done to toddler in ambulance. CBC News. Accessed: 2019-06-30. (cache)

The Canadian Press. (2019). Medical examiner tells couple’s trial that child died of bacterial meningitis. CBC News. Accessed: 2019-06-30. (cache)

Grant, Meghan. (2019). Medical examiner tells couple’s trial that toddler didn’t die from lack of oxygen. CBC News. Accessed: 2019-06-30. (cache)

The Canadian Press. (2019). Pediatric specialist calls CT scan of toddler’s brain one of the ‘most devastating’ she’s seen. CBC News. Accessed: 2019-06-30. (cache)

Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

2 thoughts on “Retrial Begins For Quacks Who Let Their Son Die of Meningitis

  • July 1, 2019 at 21:32
    Permalink

    It stuns me that many people in the US have children who are ill and they can not get them the treatment they need due to not having the money to pay for treatment. Yet here are parents in a country with a healthcare system that is free to them, that they can afford, and they refuse it. How many parents in the US would gladly change with them for the sake of their children. Hugs

    Reply
  • July 2, 2019 at 09:23
    Permalink

    The trial is by Judge alone (no jury this time), so honestly, I think the odds of conviction are greater than at the last trial.

    The trial is taking longer because the Stephans are self-represented. They don’t know what to do, and so spend more time futzing around or having proper procedure explained to them by the judge.

    This little bit of evidence astonished me:

    David Stephan also told court that Ezekiel and his older brother didn’t have routine visits with a pediatrician or family doctor, and they didn’t get standard vaccinations.

    [The Prosecutor] asked Stephan if he was aware that the vaccinations would have protected against meningitis.

    “No,” said Stephan. “I wasn’t really aware of what meningitis was.”

    He did concede in cross-examination that he was told (1) Ezekiel might have meningitis and (2) that bacterial meningitis was quite serious and potentially deadly.

    The above info comes from a June 24 globalnews.ca report.

    Canadian courts generally do not too badly in prosecuting and convicting parents of child neglect when they prefer alternative medicine over real medicine. There have been at least 2 other convictions in Alberta in the last 2 or 3 years.

    Reply

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