Tennessee Supreme Court to hear appeal from alleged cult leader

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of an alleged cult leader whose teenage follower died from cancer after her mother heeded his advice to rely on prayer rather than medicine.

The legally novel issue that has drawn the interest of the state’s highest court is whether Ariel Sherman, described as Jessica Crank’s spiritual father, owed the girl a duty of care since he had no legal ties to her.

Two different judges in two different Loudon County courts ruled he did not. Last year, a state appellate court disagreed, ruling he could, under certain circumstances, be held responsible for the girl and, therefore, her death.

Sherman’s attorney, Donald A. Bosch, asked the state Supreme Court to take a look at the issue. In an order handed down today, the high court agreed, putting the case on its May docket.

“We are very happy the state Supreme Court is going to once and for all address this matter,” Bosch said today. “We have always believed Sherman has no criminal responsibility in this matter.”

Jessica’s mother, Jacqueline Crank, and Sherman were charged in 2002 with refusing to get the girl treatment for a rare form of bone cancer from which she later died. Jacqueline Crank’s attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, successfully argued that his client was exercising her religious freedom in relying on prayer to cure the girl, and Bosch won his argument that Sherman was not married to the girl’s mother and, therefore, had no legal responsibility for her care or lack thereof.

It was not immediately clear if Crank’s case also will be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Isaacs had said he intended to proceed with his faith-healing argument in Loudon County Criminal Court following the mid-level appellate court ruling.

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