‘PRUDENT’ PARENTS TAKE GRAVELY ILL TODDLERS TO HOSPITAL: CROWN
Prosecutor skewers credibility of couple charged in son’s death, writes Valerie Fortney.
It’s not a trial for murder. It’s not a trial for manslaughter. In fact, it doesn’t even hinge on the fact that a child died.
On Saturday morning in a Lethbridge courtroom, Crown prosecutor Lisa Weich began her closing arguments to a jury with a reminder.
In her first words in a courtroom packed with family, friends and media, Weich made sure that all involved remembered what this highly emotional trial is about: whether or not Collet and David Stephan failed to provide the necessaries of life for 18-month-old Ezekiel Stephan.
Those charges — which could result in jail time of up to five years and possibly the loss of custody of their other three sons — were laid a year after the child’s death on March 18, 2012. The toddler died after succumbing to what a pathologist testified was a combination of bacterial meningitis and a lung infection.
The Crown contends that the child’s death occurred after he suffered from deteriorating health for more than two weeks; despite this, they say, his parents opted for herbal remedies and other naturopathic treatments, rather than take their son to a physician or hospital.
It was unusual for those gathered in the second-floor courtroom to be here on a Saturday, an anomaly made even more salient by the fact it was also Law Day at the courthouse.
The Saturday sitting was chosen by the judge to expedite the conclusion of a trial that’s seen many delays.
Weich followed his lead with an address that was to the point, mostly devoid of the pop culture and historical metaphors employed by defence counsel; instead, she provided a summation that lasted just over two hours, one that highlighted the Crown’s case and what she argued were flaws in the defence’s arguments.
Early on in the proceedings and throughout, she also made sure to acknowledge that David and Collet Stephan loved their little boy, cared for him and would never have wanted the tragic outcome.
“They didn’t fail to love him,” Weich said at one point.
The prosecutor, in a voice just above a whisper, went over several aspects of the case, on numerous occasions repeating the phrase “reasonable, prudent parent.”
She focused on the child’s symptoms throughout the week leading up to a pair of 911 calls.
Various testimony described how Collet told her friend, nurse Terry Meynders, that Ezekiel had fallen asleep in a bathtub; that he had a stiff neck and arched back; and, that his mother researched meningitis on the Internet.
While doing so, Weich repeated terms such as “inflammation of the brain” and “parent with no medical training” several times.
“What does a reasonably prudent parent do?” she asked, after stating the various symptoms Collet reported to the doctors, social workers and police after bringing Ezekiel to the hospital.
“They take the child to hospital.”
She also emphasized the time delay from when the Stephans first called 911 the evening of March 13, 2012, after the child had stopped breathing and the second call to 911, when they were on the road heading to the hospital in Cardston.
“A reasonably prudent parent,” she says, noting the 23-minute gap, “gets out the door immediately.”
Weich also hammered away at the credibility of the parents, noting the uniformity of their detailed statements to police, doctors and social workers, and contrasting it with their testimony last week in court, which on several occasions contradicted those statements of four years earlier.
“Ask yourself, when do you think a person’s memory of events is better?” she said. “How does a doctor not benefit by writing down parents’ comments correctly?”
When discussing the doctors’ reports of Ezekiel’s brain swelling, Weich almost began to cry when referring to one doctor who said the child’s brain had “swollen to the point he’d stopped breathing” — a moment of emotion that prompted one family supporter to storm out of the courtroom.
“A reasonably prudent parent would not have taken the time to, as David said, wait and see if he got worse,” she said in closing, saying their behaviour fell far below the minimum standard of care for children that society expects.
“The wait-and-see point was long before he stopped breathing. The wait-and-see point should have stopped as soon as they knew that meningitis was a potentially life-endangering illness.”
They should not have walked to the hospital, she said. “They should have run.” The charge to the jury is scheduled for Monday.