Calgary mother guilty in son's staph death granted full parole with conditions

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CALGARY — A mother found negligent in the death of her 14-month-old son from a staph infection has been granted full parole about halfway through her sentence, but her release comes with conditions. 

In June 2019, a judge sentenced Jennifer Clark and her husband Jeromie to 32 months in prison after a jury found the Calgary couple guilty of criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessaries of life. 

The Parole Board of Canada said in a decision last week that there were more mitigating than aggravating factors and that Jennifer Clark, 43, would not pose an undue risk if released. 

"In reviewing the aggravating factors, the board has not lost sight (that) a young life was lost," it said. 

"The victim was a vulnerable and young child who relied on his caregiver to exercise good judgment and make good decisions in relation to his medical needs and you failed him."

The board also said that while Clark has completed women's engagement, self-management and social integration programs, her "personal emotional domain" still has a "high need for improvement."

But positive factors outweighed the negative, said the board, which noted that Clark presented as "open, transparent and engaging" at her hearing.  

"You demonstrated insight into your offending and spoke to accepting responsibility for the unfortunate decisions that you (and your co-accused) made," it said. 

"You identified strategies in managing your risk in the community."

The board also pointed out that Clark had no prior criminal history, was a productive member of her community, followed all bail rules and maintains a "mutually respectful and strong" relationship with her spouse. 

Her release includes two special conditions — that she follow a treatment plan to manage her emotions and that she not care for children under the age of 18 without prior permission from her parole supervisor.

Jeromie Clark was released on parole in February.

The couple's jury trial heard that their son John was gravely ill with a staph infection and wasn't seen by a doctor until the day before the boy died in November 2013.  

Jurors saw photos of the dead child with a red rash all over his body and with blackened toes. They were also shown screen shots of online searches for natural remedies for gangrene, such as cabbage leaves and cayenne.

The couple's lawyers argued at trial that doctors at the Alberta Children's Hospital were to blame because they raised the boy's sodium and fluid levels too aggressively.

The Alberta Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the Clarks' convictions last month.

Lawyers for the couple had argued that the Clarks didn't receive a fair trial and that the Crown went too far in discrediting the testimony of Alberta's former chief medical examiner, who disagreed with a forensic pathologist's finding that John was malnourished and had a staph infection. 

The Appeal Court said the jury had enough medical evidence to reach a fair verdict and that there were at least 11 medical professionals who saw John before he died. 

The parole board noted in its decision that the husband and wife are considering pursuing further appeal options, but did not elaborate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published November 11, 2020.

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press