Trial continues for Cape Coral mom accused of starving child to death

Published: June 27, 2022 4:16 PM EDT
Updated: June 27, 2022 6:08 PM EDT

The trial for the Cape Coral mother accused of starving one of her children to death and neglecting the others continued on Monday.

The state says Sheila O’Leary failed to give Ezra, her 18-month-old toddler, enough food, water, and medical care and is accused of starving her kid to death.

Witness testimony on Monday argued that the little boy was not getting the essential nutrients he needed like vitamin B12, calcium and iron.

The reason Ezra was not getting the nutrients he need, the state argued, was due to a restricted diet consisting of raw foods like mangoes and avocados.

Doctor Nicole Avena, a research neuroscientist who studies child nutrition, testified that this restrictive diet would affect the child’s physical and mental development.

Avena told the jury the symptoms Ezra showed before his death, like swelling of extremities and not walking, suggest he suffered from a protein deficiency that is typically seen in kids in poor countries with limited food available.

Doctor Avena said that based on what she knows, Sheila O’Leary’s kids were not following a healthy vegan diet.

“There were a variety of different lapses in nutrient needs that did not seem to be met with supplements or alternative foods. There did not seem to be enough of a variety of foods in the children’s diet to allow them to get all the nutrients that they would need to have a healthy diet,” said Avena.

The jury also heard from the medical examiner on Monday.

The medical examiner, Dr. Jennifer Nara, described the toddler in horrible condition during the autopsy. An 18-month-old with eyes sunken into his head and every bone in his back sticking out.

When she saw the little boy, Nara said Ezra was just 30 inches and 17 pounds, both numbers well below the norm for an 18-month-old child.

Nara said it was clear the boy suffered from malnutrition and dehydration.

“I could see all his ribs. They were completely visible on the front of his body. I can see his spine completely every single vertebra on his back. His skin in some areas had this wrinkled appearance called tenting. And I can go into that later. And his eyes looked like they were recessed or kind of sunken into his head,” said Nara.

The tenting Dr. Nara described is when the skin is wrinkled and won’t retract, a sign of dehydration

Dr. Nara also noticed fat cells throughout Ezra’s liver which is uncommon in a child. She said his thymus gland looked like it shrank, another sign of severe malnutrition

Based on what she noticed in the autopsy, as well as information provided to her by investigators, Dr. Nara said the manner of Ezra’s death is not murder.

She said if O’Leary purposely didn’t feed her son that would be a homicide.

It’s important to note O’Leary does face first-degree murder and aggravated manslaughter charges.

Both the state and the defense rested their cases on Monday. O’Leary declined to testify and the defense did not call any witnesses.

The jury did hear from O’Leary from an interview between her and a detective.

The detective said, “Sheila I’m going to be honest with you. When I first saw him, it was concerning to me. I know these questions are probably not fair because I’m sure.”

O’Leary told the detective during the interview, “I did not want my son to die. I did not think he was going to die.”

The trial will continue on Tuesday with closing arguments at 9 a.m.