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Vegan Mom Convicted of Murdering 18-Month-Old Son by ‘Severe Malnutrition and Dehydration’ Fails to Get New Trial

Sheila O'Leary

Sheila O’Leary

A vegan mother convicted of murdering her toddler son, who died of “starvation and extreme lack of care,” has lost her bid for a new trial in Lee County, Florida, the State Attorney’s Office confirmed to Law&Crime.

After two recent sentencing delays, Sheila O’Leary still didn’t learn her fate on Monday for Ezra O’Leary’s death. What she did learn was that she loss her motion for a new trial. Her sentencing date was pushed back for the third time to Aug. 26, a Friday afternoon.

The victim was just 18 months old when he died on Sept. 27, 2019, in Cape Coral, Florida, of “complications from severe malnutrition and dehydration.”

O’Leary and the victim’s father Ryan Patrick O’Leary, 33, were accused in December 2019 of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child, child abuse, and two counts of child neglect. Sheila O’Leary was convicted in June 2022 and faces life in prison.

As recently as early August 2022, Ryan O’Leary was additionally charged with sexual assault of a victim under the age of 12, as well as lewd and lascivious behavior/molestation of a victim younger than 12, according to the Fort Myers News-Press. He has not yet gone to trial.

When news of the charges first emerged, State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit of Florida Amira Fox called the evidence in the case “gut-wrenching.”

“These are images as a mother and State Attorney I will not be able to forget,” Fox said in 2019. “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.”

After O’Leary’s conviction, Fox said that the jury needed a little more than three hours of deliberations. The trial took five days.

The State Attorney’s Office said that three other children in this case were also victims of “extreme neglect and child abuse”: an 11-year-old girl, a 5-year-old boy, and a 3-year-old boy.

Authorities said Sheila O’Leary and her ex-husband, with whom she has a daughter, had previously taken a court-ordered parenting class after their little girl was diagnosed with failure to thrive.

“It was a class to educate new parents … or parents in general,” Khang Chen, Sheila O’Leary’s former spouse, reportedly testified. “How to raise a healthy child.”

The O’Learys reportedly told officers they fed their children a strict vegan diet of raw fruits and vegetables. The toddler was also fed breast milk, the couple said.

“This child did not eat,” State Attorney’s Office Special Victims Unit Chief Francine Donnorummo said. “He was starved to death over 18 months.”

Alberto Luperon contributed to this report.

[Images via State Attorney’s Office, Lee County Sheriff’s Office]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.