Vegan Florida mother sentenced to life in prison for starving toddler to death

Sheila O'Leary faces life in prison for murdering her 18-month-old child who starved to death on a strict raw fruit and vegetable diet. (Lee County Sheriff's Office)

A vegan Florida woman convicted of murder in the malnutrition death of her young son was sentenced Monday to life in prison.

Sheila O'Leary, 38, who followed a strict vegan diet along with her husband, 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. Her sentencing in Lee County had previously been postponed four times.

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 and was the size of a 7-month-old baby when he died in September 2019, a police report said.

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O’Leary told detectives that her son did not eat for a week and that he was "having trouble sleeping the night prior to his death."

Prosecutor Francine Donnorummo, special victims unit chief at the state attorney's office, used O’Leary’s Google searches at the time Ezra’s health declined as evidence against her.

Donnorummo emphasized Ezra’s condition was chronic as O’Leary failed to provide her child with food and health care, according to the Fort Myers News-Press.

"This was a thought-out, planned course of action," Donnorummo said. "Ignorance is not a defense in this case."

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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.

Her husband, Ryan Patrick O’Leary, remains in jail while awaiting trial on the same charges. He is expected to stand trial later this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.