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Vegan mom sentenced to life in prison after son dies of malnutrition

By AYIE LICSI Published Sep 01, 2022 5:42 pm

A vegan woman in Florida has been sentenced to life in prison after she was convicted of murder in the starvation death of her 18-month-old son.

Sheila O' Leary, 38, faced six charges in her son Ezra's death: first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, child abuse, and two counts of child neglect. She was convicted in June and was handed the sentence on Aug. 29.

Her husband Ryan also faces the same charges and is awaiting trial in jail. He also faces two molestation charges.

Investigators said that the family follows a strict vegan diet. 18-month-old Ezra, who weighed 17 pounds—the size of a seven-month-old baby—when he died in Sept. 2019, was fed only raw fruits, vegetables, and breastmilk. The child hadn't reportedly eaten a week before his death.

The couple also has two other children, ages 3 and 5, who were also malnourished. A fourth child, aged 11, was returned to her biological father during an earlier malnutrition case.

In Sept. 2019, Sheila called 911 after finding Ezra not breathing. In a probable cause statement obtained by the Fort Myers News-Press, autopsy findings showed the child died due to complications of malnutrition, including dehydration, microsteatosis of the liver, and swelling of hands, feet, and lower legs.

Research from the University of London says vegan and vegetarian diets can be healthy for kids. However, these children were found to be three centimeters shorter than non-vegan kids on average and were three times more likely to be deficient in B vitamins, which are necessary for growing bodies and brains. Supplements may help provide the nutrients kids might not get enough of in plant foods.