An Irish American couple have been charged with aggravated manslaughter and child neglect after their 18-month-old son died from alleged starvation.
The couple fed their four home-schooled children a strict raw vegan diet of only vegetables and fruit.
Police were called to the home of Sheila O’Leary, 35, and Ryan O’Leary, 30, from Cape Coral, Florida, on September 27, after their 18-month-old child stopped breathing.
The child, who weighed only 17lbs, the weight of an average seven-month-old, was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy revealed he succumbed to conditions associated with starvation, including dehydration, a liver disorder, and edema of the hands and feet, The Daily Mail reports.
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Police found that two of the child’s siblings, ages three and five, also appeared malnourished and had pale, yellowish skin. One of the children had several rotten teeth. An 11-year-old child, Sheila O’Leary’s daughter from a previous relationship who visits her biological father every two months, appeared healthier than her siblings.
The children were fed a diet mainly consisting of mangoes, bananas, avocados, and rambutans.
The News-Press reports that according to jail records, the parents appear in the normal range for their heights and weights.
After being questioned by police, the mother said her youngest child had not eaten anything other than breast milk in the week leading up to his death. She said she believed he did not have an appetite because he was teething.
According to the probable cause affidavit, the boy was delivered at home and had never seen a doctor.
The Daily Mail reports that the 18-month-old first experienced breathing problems after nursing. The mother admitted to police she should have sought medical help, but instead she and her husband fell asleep.
The parents have been charged with one count of aggravated manslaughter of a child due to neglect, one count of child neglect causing great bodily harm, and one count of child neglect without great bodily harm.
The 11-year-old girl has been sent to live with her biological father in Virginia, while the other two children have been placed in the custody of Child Services.
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According to the state attorney’s office, Sheila O’Leary had been previously investigated in Virginia for malnutrition of her eldest daughter.
During the initial court appearance, John Musca, Sheila O’Leary’s attorney, argued that her son had been sick for six months prior to his death.
“The child had been sick six months prior, and had not fully recuperated. The child had started eating better, and then the child began teething,” he said, according to Fox 4 Now. “And the mother was concerned, very concerned that that was causing him not to eat as well.”
Musca pushed back against claims that the couple's children were malnourished.
“The children are of small stature. The family is of small stature. That’s how they were born, but they were perfectly healthy,” he said.
The parents are being held in Lee County Jail on $250,000 bond, and their arraignments are set for December 9.