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‘I’m sorry’: Calgary parents plead guilty to neglect of disabled adult son

A Calgary mother broke into tears Friday after she and her husband pleaded guilty to failing to provide the necessaries of life for their severely disabled adult son.

Malinda Phillips and Jonathon Grunewald entered their pleas in Calgary’s Court of Queen’s Bench.

In an agreed statement of facts, court heard that the 29-year-old man was mostly confined to his bedroom over five years. He had been diagnosed at birth with severe cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder and brain damage.

He was rushed to hospital in October 2020 when he was found unresponsive in the family’s home.

“He was admitted in critical condition, in a state of shock, and displaying the profound effects of hypothermia, sepsis and weighing only 43 pounds,” said Crown prosecutor Janice Walsh.

Hospital officials alerted Calgary police and officers charged the couple last year.

“I’m sorry,” sobbed Phillips before entering her guilty plea.

A sentencing hearing is be scheduled April 8. Court heard lawyers expect to present a joint recommendation for the sentences.

Walsh told court that Phillips and Grunewald admitted that their son hadn’t used a wheelchair for three years and “was essentially bedridden, except for special occasions including family dinners and outings.”

They were offered help for their son and in 2015 they began receiving $1,768 a month from Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program.

Walsh said Phillips didn’t trust the medical community.

“(Phillips) acknowledged she had been offered home care assistance but turned it down as she did not believe it would be beneficial,” Walsh said.

The mother also admitted to withholding food from the son four to five days a week.

“She acknowledged that this has been going on for the past four to five years and she noticed his medical condition declining about three years ago but did not take him to the doctor,” said Walsh.

Court heard that Phillips was in a car accident in 2015 and suffered from depression and back pain. She would put her headphones on and “zone out,” taking three- to four-hour naps during the day.

Grunewald, who worked during the day, took over caring for his son in the evenings, said Walsh.

“He was aware that Malinda was not caring for him during the days but did not want to ‘pick a fight over it,’” Walsh said.

She added the son was not given any liquids until his father gave them to him at dinner.

Grunewald admitted the family had been offered fully funded, in-home medical assistance five days a week. He knew his wife had refused the service and “did not press the issue,” said Walsh.

The son now lives in a care home. Walsh said he has gained weight, increased his mobility and can sit in a wheelchair.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press


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