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Parents indicted for murder in child’s starvation death

By Staff | Dec 18, 2019

A Cape Coral couple has been indicted with first degree murder and a host of related charges in the death of their 18-month old son, who died of extreme malnutrition.

In addition to first degree murder, the Lee County Grand Jury indicted Ryan Patrick O’Leary, 30, and Sheila O’Leary, 35, for aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, child abuse, and two counts of child neglect.

The charges also involve three other children under the care of the couple, who had told investigators they were vegans who fed the children a raw diet that primarily consisted of mangoes, rambutans, bananas and avocados. The baby had also been breast-fed.

“Both are formally charged with the neglect, torture and murder of an 18-month-old child due to starvation and extreme lack of care,” a release issued by the State Attorney’s Office Wednesday afternoon states. The indictment also involves three other victims, a 3-year-old, a 5-year-old, and an 11-year-old child, who suffered from child abuse and extreme neglect.”

The couple was arrested in November after an autopsy revealed that the baby, who weighed 17 pounds, had died of complications related to malnutrition.

The investigation began on Sept. 27 after police responded to a call that the 18-month-old had stopped breathing.

According to the report, when Lee County Emergency Medics arrived at the home just before 8 a.m., Sheila met them at the door and handed the child to paramedics.

Shortly after their arrival and examination, the child was pronounced dead at the home.

Sheila reportedly told a detective that the child had not been feeling well for the past week, had not eaten for a week, and was only being breastfed, according to the report. She and Ryan believed this was due to the child teething.

The police report states that Sheila stated that the last time the child had anything to drink was about 4 a.m. that morning, and noticed the child had shallow breathing when nursing him. Sheila also told police that the child had never done that before, and that she should have called someone because she was worried.

Sheila told a detective that when she awoke to her husband getting ready for work, she noticed the child was not breathing and was cold, said the report. Ryan said he heard her scream, and tried to resuscitate the child while Sheila called 911.

The child was born at their home, and never had been to a doctor before, which was a preference of the parents, according to Sheila’s statement to police.

Sheila also reportedly told police that days prior, the child refused all beast milk and did not eat or drink for about 12 hours. She said she was worried then, but that the same evening the child began nursing again. She also said the child’s feet had been swollen off and on for a few weeks, the report stated. The mother said around six months ago the child was very sick, causing vomiting and weight loss, and that she believed the child had never fully recovered from that illness, though had begun to gain weight back until the teething began a week prior to the incident.

The report stated that the child appeared “extremely malnourished” with his feet and hands swollen. No apparent injuries to the child could be seen.

Three other children were residing in the home, with two also appearing malnourished, said the report.

One sibling, the oldest and the child of Sheila only, appeared healthier than the others, which detectives speculated could be due to the fact they visit their father in Virginia every two months for a few weeks at a time.

The other two children, according to the report, were noted to be “extremely small for their age and were a pale, yellowish color.” They were taken to the Children’s Advocacy Center for an immediate medical exam.

The exam determined that both children were underweight and undersized for their age. The third child was listed as in the healthy range. One child had “blackened teeth indicating dental decay” and will have several teeth extracted because of it, said the report.

Wednesday’s indictment is the culmination of an investigation by the Cape Coral Police Department with the assistance of the Children’s Advocacy Center.

“The evidence and crime scene in this case are gut-wrenching. These are images as a mother and State Attorney I will not be able to forget. I commend the detectives and officers with the Cape Coral Police Department for their difficult task of dealing with the horrendous nature of this case,” said State Attorney Amira Fox.

Assistant State Attorney Francine Donnorummo, Special Victims Unit Chief, and Assistant State Attorney Heather Fly will prosecute the case.

The defendants will be arraigned on the charges in this indictment on Dec. 23 at 9 a.m. in front of the Honorable Judge Margaret Steinbeck.