A vegan woman convicted of murder in the malnutrition death of her young son was sentenced Monday to life in prison.
Sheila O’Leary, 38, whose family followed a strict vegan diet, was convicted in June on six charges—first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, child abuse, and two counts of child neglect—in the death of Ezra O’Leary.
Judge Bruce Kyle delivered the sentence on Monday. O’Leary’s sentencing in Lee County, Florida, had previously been postponed four times. Her husband, Ryan Patrick O’Leary, remains in jail while awaiting trial on the same charges.
Investigators said the couple told them the family ate only raw fruits and vegetables, although the toddler also was fed breast milk. The 18-month-old boy weighed 17 pounds (8 kilograms) and was the size of a 7-month-old baby when he died in September 2019, a police report said.
The Cape Coral couple had two other children, ages 3 and 5, who also were malnourished, investigators said. A fourth child had been returned to her biological father during an earlier malnutrition case in Virginia, court records show.
Kyle also ordered O’Leary to have no contact with her surviving children. The judge did not comment on the sentence in court, and O’Leary stood silently in a red jumpsuit next to her attorney Lee Hollander.
In a brief interview after the sentencing, Hollander said he was not surprised at the outcome.
“It was what we were expecting,” he said. He said he intends to appeal the sentence and seek a new trial.
Hollander had argued in court documents that the first-degree murder and aggravated manslaughter charges amounted to double jeopardy, and O’Leary’s eldest child testified remotely in violation of O’Leary’s right to confront her accuser, among other motions.
Ezra’s father, Ryan O’Leary, remains in Lee County Jail and faces a trial on the same charges, as well as on two molestation charges.
The O’Learys told police after Ezra’s death that the family followed a strict vegan diet, eating only raw fruits and vegetables, but that the toddler was also fed breast milk. The couple also told detectives Ezra hadn’t eaten for a week and that he was having trouble sleeping the night prior to his death.
Francine Donnorummo, Special Victims Unit chief at the State Attorney’s Office, said that this took place over a prolonged period of time.
“This child did not eat. He was starved to death over 18 months,” Donnorummo said in her closing arguments against Sheila O’Leary in June.
The O’Learys had three other children in the home, a 3-year-old, a 5-year-old, and an 11-year-old, who also suffered from extreme neglect and child abuse.