Cape Coral mom accused of starving son to death found guilty of first-degree murder

Reporter: Zach Oliveri Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
Sheila O'Leary
Sheila O’Leary in court on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (Credit: WINK News)

The jury returned a guilty verdict in the trial for Sheila O’Leary, the Cape Coral mom who is accused of starving her son to death.

O’Leary was found guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child, child neglect, and child abuse.

O’Leary previously rejected the state’s plea deal for 30 years in prison. The judge told her on Wednesday that she will get a life sentence if found guilty.

The defense team said they are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. “Obviously, we were disappointed. Thought we made an argument. But then the jury was out three and a half hours so weren’t rushed to judgment,” said Defense Attorney Lee Hollander.

The state is pleased. “We very much respect the decision of the jury and their hard work. We put in a lot of hard work on the case as well and we have Mr. O’Leary to go,” said Francine Donnorummo with the State Attorney’s Office.

The jury took about five hours to deliver the guilty verdict and O’Leary showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

On Monday, the prosecution called witnesses including the medical examiner who testified that O’Leary’s 18-month-old son Ezra appeared to be severely malnourished at the time of his death.

The defense did not call any witnesses and O’Leary chose not to testify in her own defense.

During closing arguments on Tuesday, the prosecution argued that there is enough evidence for the jury to find O’Leary guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecution reminded the jury about testimony from Doctor Nicole Avena, a research neuroscientist who studies child nutrition, who testified that a restrictive diet would affect the child’s physical and mental development.

O’Leary’s defense team asked the jury in their closing argument to consider that O’Leary didn’t take her son to the doctor because she may have been fearful of having her son taken away from her.

The defense told the jury that this is a tragic situation, but that does not mean that it is a crime, and argued there was no intent by O’Leary to harm Ezra.

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