Local parents get life sentences for son's murder

Alberta Prime Time - Discussing the latest in crime topics are Greg Dunn a Calgary Criminal Defence lawyer, Steven Penney with the University of Alberta, and Mark Cherrington a Youth Justice Advocate.

Local parents get life sentences for son's murder

MONDAY, MARCH 06, 2017

(0:00) Start

First up, the tragic case of the Calgary boy who lived and died alone.

CLIP: Emil: Well I came from work and found my son in bed and he’s not breathing.

Michael: Paramedics who responded to that call described 15 year-old Alex Rudy as mummified, covered in ulcers with teeth rotten to the stump. Alex weighed only 37 pounds when he died as a result of starvation and malnutrition in 2013. Last week a Calgary judge found his parents guilty of first degree murder, landing them automatic life sentences with no eligibility for parole , up parole for all 25 years. The defence argued the Rhodesia’s had no intention of killing their son but that their religious beliefs restricted them from providing the level of medical care he needed to treat their son’s diabetes. The Crown called the parents’ actions deliberate.

CLIP: Crown Prosecutor: It really highlights the degree of isolation that Alex lived in. He had no friends or teachers or support people or doctors or really anyone. He lived and he died very much alone.

Michael: Greg what was needed to prove first-degree murder in this case as opposed to the lesser charge of manslaughter?

Greg: Right, so first degree murder is essentially the highest level of culpable homocide in Canadian Criminal Law. And what the crown needed to prove was a number of things. First off, that there was an intention to kill, and they had to take the additional step to show that the intention was what we call plan and deliberate. So what that really means is that there was a bit of foresight, a bit of planning, and a bit of action on that planning in order to bring out the death of the individual. Now, in this case what happened is the judge found that there was first degree murder on two aspects. One, that the continued course of action with the parents - the neglect, the failure to provide the necessity of life, was tantamount to action that she found to be planned and deliberate - but, there’s also a subcategory of first-degree murder and it’s what I call a predicate offense first degree murder and it’s a special category of first degree murder that the Criminal Code in Canada says even if a murder is not planned and deliberate, if it results in the course of what we call the predicate offense, we’re going to deem it to be first degree. Those offences, they range that they’re at something - one is hijacking, another one is unlawful confinement, sexual assault is another one - but the judge found that not only was there plan and deliberation, but in the alternative, if there wasn’t planning and deliberation, she said that there would be first degree murder on the basis that the child was unlawfully confined through a period of time in his life, which resulted in his death and therefore would elevate it up to first-degree murder. Manslaughter on the flip-side, which the defence argued strenuously is essentially a situation in which there is an unlawful act of some type or negligence of some type that results in the death of the individual, but the intention to kill was not there and the defence was unsuccessful with respect to that argument.

Michael: Stephen, what’s your reaction to this decision?

Stephen: Well, that was a little bit surprising not having followed the case closely because most of these types of cases where you have severe forms of parental neglect either because of religious belief or ideological belief or some belief that modern medicine should not be applied the child - most of those result in manslaughter convictions either for criminal negligence or failure to provide necessaries. And so it’s very difficult to prove that there is an intent to kill in these circumstances but the judge inferred from the knowledge that the parents had think that serious medical issues had arisen in the past and that the child was near death and they were told very clearly and explicitly that if the kid didn’t get insulin that he would die. As you know over the course of the next few years obviously medical treatment was not properly provided and eventually he tragically died so I think the judge was then able to infer that there was an intent to kill because they must have known that failing to provide insulin and other necessities of life, that inevitably he would die.

Michael: In 2003, when the family was still living in British Columbia, Alex was hospitalized after nearly dying. He was taken out of the care of his parents and placed in foster care for one year before being returned to his family with the understanding he would be supervised by teachers and health officials. It wasn’t long after the Rodesia’s moved to Alberta. Mark how much communication is there between provinces when it comes to children and care?

Mark: Well, there usually is quite a fair bit of communication, particularly within the child welfare system and you know, this is a case where a child had a slow miserable death and it was a lonely death. Im just baffled that somebody that was suffering for so long was under the radar from so many systems, not only through the welfare system but through the education system. He was under 16, he was required by law to attend classes or online and he wasn’t even participating in that. So somebody never made the call. That could have been a neighbour, that could have been a teacher, it could have been a child care welfare worker from another province, but nobody followed up and nobody communicated, and nobody asked questions and this child was murdered.

Michael: So what questions are you left with then? Who should have been looking?

Mark: Well I think that we need to look at, and I do think we need to look at, I think we need to go upstream with this and say where did the communication drop off and where wan’t it picked up? Now I understand that this boy’s involvement was in the child welfare system in BC was rather dated, but there was an understanding that there were some expectations placed on this child and this family - I should say the family. Those were obviously not followed through so where did this boy get lost in the woods? Where did people just sort of forget about him? I think we need to take a look at what went wrong in this case and develop a better best practice scenarios so this situation doesn’t reappear.

Michael: Alright, time for a break.

(6:52) End