Parents accused in toddler's starvation to face trial after failed adjournment bid

A Calgary woman accused in the death of her toddler was dishonest in her attempts to have her trial adjourned, a judge ruled Friday.

Jennifer Clark and her husband, Jeromie Clark, face charges of failing to provide the necessaries of life and criminal negligence causing death after their 14-month-old, John, died in 2013.

At a hearing on Wednesday, prosecutor Shane Parker argued the court should have "deep suspicions" about Jennifer Clark's motivations for requesting a trial delay and suggested she was "manipulating the system" for the benefit of her husband.

If the trial — set to begin in June — was delayed again, Jeromie Clark would be in a position to apply for his charges to be stayed based on an unreasonable delay. The court's next available date for a three-week trial was September 2018.

Not an act of 'brinkmanship'

Before he delivered his reasons, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Glen Poelman asked Jeromie Clark if he would waive his Charter right to trial within a reasonable time. 

He refused, arguing he's not been allowed to see his kids and feels he's missing their childhood.

"I've been very torn by the situation," he told the judge. "Because of the lengthy delay...my boys were 3 and 7 when my son died, they're now 7 and 11."

Jeormie's lawyer, David Chow, made it clear to the judge his client's refusal to waive his rights was not an act of "brinkmanship."

'She has not acted reasonably, honestly and diligently'

Both husband and wife have caused delays over the years by firing their lawyers and hiring new ones. At times they have represented themselves. 

At Wednesday's hearing, Jennifer Clark was asked to explain the steps she'd taken to find a new lawyer after getting rid of her first — George Sirois — for financial reasons in February. She told the judge she wanted a female lawyer with experience in this type of case.

Poelman said that requirement was "not reasonable." 

"She had the luxury of that degree of choice at the outset of the case or perhaps even a year or so ago, but not now," he said. 

She tried to hire defence lawyer Karen Molle, who said she would need more time to prepare for trial and asked to adjourn until the next available date in Sept. 2018. 

"She has not acted reasonably, honestly and diligently as required in the circumstances of this case to secure a replacement of counsel," Poelman said of her delay.

Couple claim to be Seventh-day Adventists 

At the time of the couple's arrest, police said the family — who claim to be Seventh-day Adventists — followed a strict diet based on an extreme interpretation of the religion.

John was brought to the hospital by his parents on Nov. 28, 2013, and died the next day of a staph infection complicated by malnutrition.

John was born at home and had never been to a doctor. 

At the time they were charged, police said it appeared the parents took steps to conceal their son's condition from other family members.

Poelman's decision forces the couple to keep their June trial dates. Jennifer Clark will appear in court again on April 28 to update the judge on whether she will proceed to trial with a lawyer.

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