Cape Coral mother in court Wednesday, accused of starving child to death

Published: June 22, 2022 8:37 AM EDT
Updated: June 23, 2022 1:59 PM EDT

A Cape Coral mother accused of starving one of her children to death and neglecting the others began her trial Wednesday morning.

Sheila and Ryan O’Leary, 38 and 33, are accused of starving their 18-month-old son to death and neglecting their other three children, causing one to have to get surgery because her teeth were so rotten. They were ages 3, 5, and 11 years old at the time of the arrest in November 2019.

The mother called 911 in September when she noticed her son was not breathing and felt cold, according to a police report. She tried to resuscitate the baby, but he was dead when paramedics arrived.

Both parents pleaded not guilty to all charges—first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child, two counts of child neglect and one count of child abuse—in 2019 and are in jail without bond.

Sheila O’Leary rejected the state’s plea deal for 30 years in prison. The judge told her she will get a life sentence if found guilty.

“You do understand however if you are found guilty at trial as charged, it’s an automatic life sentence. There’s no leeway around that. It is what it is. You understand that ma’am. You do understand that in Florida life means life. We’re not like other states you will die in prison. You understand that?” said Judge Bruce Kyle.

Sheila O'Leary
Sheila O’Leary in court on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. (Credit: WINK News)

In the initial report, the couple told police they are vegan and eat only raw fruits and vegetables.

The jury for her trial was determined on Wednesday. Attorneys for both sides narrowed down the jury pool from 60 to 12 jurors.

Some of the questions that the potential jurors have been asked are if they or someone they know have been a victim of child abuse, if they are on a special or vegan diet, if they believe in vaccinating their children, and if they have kids and how old those kids are.

The judge decided on Wednesday that if the eldest daughter testifies, she will not do it in the courtroom.

Opening statements are set to take place Thursday morning.

Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated who could testify remotely; it is the eldest daughter. 

Sheila and Ryan O’Leary’s home.

AP contributed to the story.