Vegan Parents Charged with First-Degree Murder for Starving Baby to Death

July 12, 2022 Criminal Defense

When people think of child abuse, it is typically what has been shown on TV or in movies—a parent hitting a child or being violent around them. However, child abuse comes in many forms. There is also child neglect to consider as well. In a recent Florida case, a set of parents are now facing serious criminal charges after abusing their children by not feeding them.

The O’Leary parents believed they were just following a strict vegan diet, however, after the death of their youngest son, it shows that their habits were much more dangerous than they thought. Their vegan diet was also causing their children severe mental and physical harm, which constitutes child abuse.

We will cover the details of the case, along with defining child abuse and child neglect in Florida.

What was the Incident?

Back in 2019, Sheila O’Leary, 39, and her husband Ryan O’Leary, 33, were indicted for neglecting and abusing their children. The mother of four informed police that the family was considered vegan, and only ate raw fruits and vegetables.

However, there were clear traces of neglect and malnourishment among all of the children. Specifically, the youngest child, 18-month-old Ezra, who died of malnutrition and dehydration. He weighed only 17 pounds when he died—which is seven pounds under the average weight for his age.

After investigating, detectives found that the three other children were also severely malnourished and underweight. O’Leary told authorities that Ezra hadn’t eaten for an entire week before he died in his sleep.

O’Leary claimed Ezra was getting breast milk, but it was announced by the prosecution that the baby’s condition was chronic. Prosecutor Francine Donnorummo said that O’Leary’s “ignorance is not a defense in this case.”

Now O’Leary is facing multiple charges due to child neglect and child abuse, along with the death of baby Ezra. She is currently facing charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, child abuse, and two counts of child neglect.

If convicted, O’Leary can face up to life imprisonment without any chance of parole. Ryan O’Leary is set to go to trial later this year.

Child Abuse in Florida

Florida takes allegations of child abuse very seriously. It is typically the child protective investigators with the Florida Department of Children and Family Services that have to gather evidence in a child abuse case. Often times there is little evidence, and just the word of one person over another.

Florida Statute Section 827.03 covers the criminal statute of child abuse and neglect, whereas the DCF proceedings use Chapter 39 to define the use of child abuse. The following is a list of elements that a prosecutor must prove:

  • The Defendant knowingly or willfully abused the victim by:
    • Intentionally inflicting physical or mental injury upon the victim; or
    • Committing an intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to the victim; or
    • Actively encouraging another person to commit an act that resulted in or could reasonably have been expected to result in physical or mental injury to the victim.
  • The victim was under the age of 18 years old.

 Child neglect is slightly different from child abuse. Child neglect charge would occur if the defendant fails to make a reasonable effort to protect a child under 18 from being abused, neglected, or exploited by another person. In addition, if the defendant does not provide the child with proper supervision and care, it could be considered a child neglect charge.

In most cases, a child abuse charge is considered a third-degree felony. The penalty for a conviction is up to a $5,000 fine or up to five years in prison. An example of a third-degree child abuse charge is if the defendant intentionally abuses a child without causing any serious or permanent injuries.

In more serious cases, a child abuse charge can be considered a first-degree felony. For instance, if a child under 18 has been imprisoned, tortured, abused, or maliciously punished by another person that causes serious bodily harm, permanent disability, or disfigurement, it is considered aggravated child abuse. The penalties for a first-degree child abuse charge are a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 30 years in prison.

For child neglect, it can be considered a third- or second-degree felony. Without causing great bodily harm, a child neglect charge in the third-degree would result in the penalty of up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison. If there is more severe harm done resulting in permanent disability or disfigurement, then it would be considered child neglect as a second-degree felony. The punishment for this charge is up to a fine of $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison.

Since O’Leary’s 18-month-old son died as a result of the child abuse, it is considered aggravated child abuse and first-degree murder. The other charges she received include aggravated manslaughter, child abuse, and two counts of child neglect.

Resources for Child Abuse in Florida

The following are a list of resources and useful links for child abuse in the state of Florida:

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Getting accused of abusing or neglecting children is an extremely serious charge in Florida. The consequences of a child abuse conviction can result in expensive fines, potential jail time, and even losing custody of your children. The best way to build a strong defense for your case is to work directly with a skilled criminal defense attorney. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients all across Florida for various charges. We vow to stand in your corner and fight for your freedom. For a free consultation call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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