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Sheila O’Leary, 39, of Cape Coral, was convicted last month of murder and child abuse in the 2019 death of little Ezra O’Leary. The boy weighed just 17 pounds when he died, and had only been fed his parents’ strict vegan diet. The boy’s family claimed that he was given breast milk as well. Prosecutors said the boy suffered horribly in his dying days.
“She chose to disregard his cries,” Assistant State Attorney Sara Miller said during closing arguments. “She didn’t need a scale to see his bones. She didn’t need a scale to hear his cry.”
Lee County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Kyle ordered the 38-year-old woman to serve concurrent sentences for other charges in the boy’s death, including 30 years each for aggravated child abuse and manslaughter convictions, the Cape Coral News-Press reported.
Kyle also ordered O’Leary to have no contact with her surviving children. The judge passed the sentence without additional comment and O’Leary stood silently with her attorney Lee Hollander, the newspaper reported.
Vegan gets life in prison for malnourishing her child to death! pic.twitter.com/V9TXFiVC2f
— Dr Shawn Baker 🥩 (@SBakerMD) August 30, 2022
O’Leary and her husband, Ryan O’Leary, told police that Ezra followed a strict vegan diet. They said the boy was having trouble sleeping and had not eaten a bite for a week prior to his death. His cause of death was determined to be complications from malnutrition.
Ryan O’Leary is slated to stand trial later this year on the same charges.
During her trial, prosecutors said O’Leary failed to seek proper medical care for the ailing boy. The couple had also allegedly neglected their three other children when Ezra died. Two, who were the couple’s other biological children, were placed in the custody of Child Services after their brother’s death, while their 11-year-old half-sister now lives with her father, Khang Chen, in Virginia.
Chen testified at trial that he, O’Leary and their daughter had lived together at his mother’s home in Virginia before the O’Learys moved to Florida. He said they had taken parenting classes following a court order from Virginia’s Child Protective Services.
“It was a class to educate new parents … or parents in general,” Chen told jurors. “How to raise a healthy child.”
“This is by no means unique to the vegan community, but this is certainly an exacerbating fact when we see people who are poor parents and vegan [their children see] much more likelihood of worse outcomes because of the inherent deficiencies in the diet,” Baker said.