David and Collet Stephan completing a successful appeal, receiving a not guilty verdict Thursday afternoon (Sep. 19).
The former southern Alberta couple was originally found guilty by a jury for failing to provide the necessaries of life for their 19-month old son Ezekial in their first trial in 2016. The toddler died in hospital in 2012.
In his decision, Justice Terry Clackson finds that Ezekial had viral, not bacterial meningitis, and his parents were not aware of his condition but “were alert to the possibility and monitoring for symptoms.” However, the boy did not die from the illness. Instead, he died from a lack of oxygen when he stopped breathing and an ambulance was not properly equipped to intubate him.
“This is a very big precedent setting case that helps protect parental rights,” David Stephan told media after the verdict. He represented himself through the re-trial. “It’s not about choice of care, that you can feel that you may be criminally negligent if you decide to opt for homeopathy or naturopathy or anything else. That’s what, largely, this case was being made into even though that wasn’t the case at hand.”
Defense lawyer Shawn Buckley, who defended the Stephans in their first trial and assisted Collet in this re-trial alongside two other lawyers, Jason Demers and Ingrid Hess, says Justice Clackson was very fair. “This judge approached this as a fresh trial as he was mandated to do. He told the court that he was not paying attention to earlier transcripts or watching the media, that he was coming to it fresh.”
Crown prosecutors Britta Christensen and Joshua Chan did not comment. The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service says it respects the decision of the Court, and it will be carefully reviewing that decision to determine next steps.