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Ontario couple convicted of killing their toddler through malnutrition get new trial after fresh evidence submitted

Maria and Sean Hosannah leave their sentence hearing at a Brampton, Ont. court after being convicted of manslaughter in the death of their two-year-old daughter Matinah, January 30, 2015.
Maria and Sean Hosannah leave their sentence hearing at a Brampton, Ont. court after being convicted of manslaughter in the death of their two-year-old daughter Matinah, January 30, 2015.

Manslaughter convictions against an Ontario mother and father for the death of their undernourished two-year-old daughter have been overturned and a new trial ordered after fresh evidence challenged the Crown’s medical experts.

In February 2011, Matinah Hosannah stopped breathing while in her mother’s arms. Her father called 911 but paramedics could not resuscitate the baby and she was pronounced dead in a hospital a short time later.

Her mother, Maria Hosannah, and father, Sean Hosannah, of Mississauga, were both charged with manslaughter for allegedly failing to provide their daughter with the necessaries of life.

At a trial in 2014, a jury heard that Matinah was tiny, underweight and poorly developed.

She could neither walk nor crawl by the age of two. Even though a family doctor allegedly told the parents the baby needed to see a specialist, she had no medical attention in the last year of her life, court heard then.

Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist, testified at their trial that the girl suffered from malnutrition due to inadequate feeding and a diet deficient in protein and vitamins. She had a number of ailments linked to poor nourishment.

He concluded she suffered an asthma attack while in a critical state of illness due to protein malnutrition and vitamin deficiency; that led to lack of oxygen, shock and death.

Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, a pediatric nutritionist, testified the girl showed signs of a longstanding unbalanced diet, severe malnutrition, protein and vitamin deficiency that stunted her development.

This has been a very sad case for all concerned

Despite the couple maintaining their innocence, a jury found them guilty of manslaughter for failing to provide the necessaries of life.

The case was never about purposeful cruelty or neglect.

The prosecutors at trial accepted that the Hosannahs never wanted to hurt their daughter.

“This has been a very sad case for all concerned,” Justice John Sproat said at the time of their sentencing.

There were, however, damaging choices made, the judge said. The family maintained a strict vegetarian diet and a philosophy that they only “eat to live,” according to accounts from the 2014 trial. They had an aversion to doctors, vaccinations and an abiding suspicion their daughter had been poisoned at birth.

The trial judge pondered aloud that the couple’s “distrust of medical professionals” was an issue in Matinah’s death.

Maria Hosannah was sentenced to two years and her husband to two years less a day.

They promised to appeal at the time.

In the years since their trial, lawyers for the couple consulted with other medical professionals and, in their joint appeal against their convictions, entered two medical opinions as “fresh evidence” at the Court of Appeals for Ontario.

Dr. Michael Shkrum, a forensic pathologist, challenged Pollanen’s evidence and said, in his view, the girl died of congestive heart failure due to an enlarged heart, possibly caused by vitamin deficiency and/or anemia.

In response to that report, Pollanen conceded asthma and an acute asthma attack did not have a role in her death but disagreed on congestive heart failure as the cause of death, attributing it to malnutrition, instead.

A second report by a specialist in pediatric bone disorders questioned Zlotkin’s evidence and concluded the child had severe Vitamin D deficiency rickets that could account for the symptoms the jury heard were attributed to protein deficiency.

In response, Zlotkin retained his belief Matinah suffered serious protein deficiency and was at risk of sudden death from protein-energy malnutrition.

The appeal court weighed the proposed new evidence.

“The proposed evidence is relevant to a decisive issue at trial — the cause of the deceased’s death,” the appeal decision says.

“The appellants were charged with unlawful act manslaughter. It was incumbent on the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, if it could, that the appellants’ unlawful act of failing to provide the necessaries of life was a substantial contributing cause of the death of the deceased.

“The proposed evidence is relevant because of its tendency to show what caused the deceased to die and, by inference, whether her death originated in any unlawful conduct by the appellants.”

The court accepted the new reports and allowed the parent’s appeal of their convictions, the court ruled Thursday, on a videoconference hearing.

A new trial was ordered.

Maria Hosannah was pregnant at the time of her sentencing in 2015. Both parents had been released from custody pending the outcome of their appeal.

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