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‘On death’s doorstep:’ Trial begins for Calgary couple charged in son’s death

CALGARY — A jury trial for a couple charged in the death of their 14-month-old son heard the boy was on the verge of death when he was taken to hospital — the first time he had ever seen a doctor.

Jeromie and Jennifer Clark have pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessaries of life for their son John. The pair clasped hands as they stood in the prisoner’s dock on Monday.

Police began investigating after the boy was brought to hospital by his parents on Nov. 28, 2013.

“John was on death’s doorstep. This was the first time John had seen a doctor in his 14 months on this earth,” prosecutor Shane Parker told the jury in his opening statement.

Emergency physician Ping-Wei Chen told court that the boy was critically ill when he and his parents arrived at Foothills Medical Centre that afternoon.

“John was quite pale and appeared quite lifeless,” he said.

Usually when patients are fighting an infection, their temperature and heart rate rise, Chen said. But both were abnormally low in John’s case — a sign his ailment was in its final stages.

“That’s often a harbinger of very bad things happening quickly,” Chen told court.

He diagnosed John with septic shock, most likely to have stemmed from an infection of the skin. The boy had a rash all over his body and some of his toes had turned black, court heard.

Chen said he was struck by John’s subdued reaction to painful needles.

“The usual response for a child is screaming bloody murder.”

Chen said both parents were calm and quiet. Chen said John needed to be taken to the Alberta Children’s Hospital immediately, which was better equipped to care for the child.

The prosecutor said John was born at home, had never been vaccinated and hadn’t been fed properly.

He said an autopsy showed his major organs weighed less than those of babies half his age. He said the rash was initially thought to be eczema, but was actually due to malnutrition.

“His immune system was so compromised from a lack of vitamins and minerals,” Parker said. “John was too small and too weak to fight.”

The infection should have been treatable, Parker said.

“At any point in time, the parents could have stopped the dominoes.”

Paramedic Jessica Kerr testified that when she arrived to take John by ambulance to the Alberta Children’s Hospital, her initial observation was “that he was a very sick little boy.”

Wiping away tears, Kerr said John was lethargic and quiet and she was troubled by the look of his skin.

“It looked like he had been burned from head to toe.”

She said he was only wearing a diaper.

David Stephan, whose 19-month-old son Ezekiel died from meningitis in 2012, was in the public gallery Monday with a notebook.

He and his wife, Collet, were found guilty in 2016 of failing to provide the necessaries of life. Their trial in Lethbridge, Alta., heard evidence that they treated the boy with garlic, onion and horseradish rather than take him to a doctor.

The Supreme Court, saying the original trial judge did not properly instruct jurors, ordered a new trial for the couple in May.