Meningitis Trial Verdict: Anti-Vaccine Parents Who Refused Medical Treatment For Toddler Found Guilty In His Death

Jurors have reached a verdict in the trial of two anti-vaccination parents from Alberta, Canada, who not only opted out of the meningococcal vaccine -- usually given to babies at 12 months of age in Canada to prevent the contraction of meningitis -- for their child, but also allowed their toddler to die of meningitis when they refused to seek medical treatment for the boy until he stopped breathing.

In March of 2012, 19-month-old Ezekiel Stephan fell ill with what his parents claimed to believe was the flu or croup, and instead of seeking medical intervention, David and Collet Stephan opted for natural remedies to treat their ailing toddler. For two and a half weeks, Ezekiel's meningitis was treated with natural remedies, including smoothies with hot peppers, garlic, onions, and horseradish, but he failed to get better.

The meningitis death trial was scheduled for four weeks, but by the time the jurors reached their verdict Tuesday night, the proceedings had entered their seventh week. According to Global News, during the lengthy trial, the four-man, eight-woman jury heard that a friend of the Stephans, who also happened to be a nurse, told the parents that young Ezekiel was likely suffering from meningitis and that he should see a doctor as soon as possible. Instead, though, David and Collet brought their son, whose body was so stiff that he couldn't sit in his car seat and instead had to lie on a mattress in the car, to a naturopath, who allegedly sold them an echinacea mixture aimed at boosting the child's immune system.

Later that day, Ezekiel stopped breathing and was finally rushed to the hospital. The toddler was airlifted to Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary, where he was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. On March 18, 2012, doctors detected very minimal brain activity in the young boy, and he was taken off life support. Eleven months later, the Stephans were charged in the meningitis death of their son on the grounds of "failing to provide the necessaries of life," said Crown prosecutor Lisa Weich after court was adjourned last night.

"What we hope that the public and the community takes away from this particular trial and the verdict in this trial is that all parents are held to a minimum standard of care that all children should expect at all times."

Following the verdict, the Crown asked the judge to have the Stephans relinquish their passports until their sentencing date, scheduled for June 13, but the judge denied the request. The parents will not be held in custody until their sentencing trial.

Although a charge of failing to provide the necessaries of life carries a maximum of five years in prison, Shannon Prithipaul, the former president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, thinks it's highly unlikely David and Collet Stephan will receive the maximum sentence, reports CBC News.

"It's not like they were not feeding their child or they were purposely withholding medication that they knew would assist the child but didn't."

Despite the fact that Collet and David stated during the trial that they didn't know Ezekiel was suffering from meningitis and instead believed it to be croup or the flu, the jury was told that upon searching Collet's computer, investigators found that she had researched viral meningitis online prior to the toddler's death. Court documents also showed that just days before the young boy's untimely death, his parents were force-feeding him fluids through an eye dropper because he was too sick to eat or drink.

Do you believe the verdict was fair in the trial of the death of Ezekiel Stephan from meningitis? Should his parents receive the maximum sentence? Sound off below.

[Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]