LOUDON — The debate over a parent’s right to turn to prayer for an ailing child is headed for the state’s appellate courts.
Loudon County Criminal Court Judge Eugene Eblen today declined to dismiss child neglect charges against Jacqueline Crank and her minister Ariel Sherman but is allowing attorneys Gregory P. Isaacs and Donald A. Bosch to file an emergency appeal to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
Everyone in the case, including Assistant District Attorney General Frank Harvey, seemed to agree today that whether Crank and Sherman can be prosecuted for failing to get medical treatment for 15-year-old Jessica Crank is at this point more of a legal argument than a jury question.
There is a state law that allows faith healing, but it is silent on when or even if a parent must at some point abandon prayer in favor of medicine.
She died from the disease later that year.
Jacqueline Crank testified at a hearing this morning that she believed God could heal her daughter if He so chose.
“I decided to turn to Jesus Christ, My Lord and Savior, for her healing,” Crank said.
Jacqueline Crank carried with her to the witness stand a Bible and turned aside Harvey’s suggestion that the Universal Life Church, of which she is a member, is a cult headed up by Sherman, who is often included in college text books as an example of a cult leader.
Sherman has repeatedly denied that he is a cult leader.
Jacqueline Crank said she continues to live with Sherman, her son and four other church members in South Carolina.
Sherman often lives in a communal setting with his parisionhers.
More than six years after 15-year-old Jessica Crank died from cancer, her mother Jacqueline is testifying about making that choice as a matter of religious conviction.
Jessica Crank had a large tumor on her shoulder when she died.
“I knew there was a problem. It was a large grapefruit-sized tumor,” Jacqueline Crank said.
Despite her own testimony about medical advice, “that she would need more tests,” Crank chose a different route with spiritual leader Ariel Ben Sherman.
“We took it in our hands to pray for her, to heal her with prayer; to know that Jesus Christ is the healer,” Crank said.
“Did you take her to the hospital?” prosecutors asked.
“I took her to Jesus Christ,” she answered.
And Crank’s lawyers argue she did nothing wrong.
Crank now faces a misdemeanor neglect charge in the death of her daughter, after years of legal wrangling that has seen the charges move up and down the appeals process but never to trial.
Sherman also faces child neglect charges.
Judge Eblen said he agreed with much of the defense, but denied the motion on the basis that only the state can deem a law unconstitutional.
Sherman was present in court as well. His charges in connection with the case have raised questions of legal duty of care.
Sherman’s defense attorney, Don Bosch, hopes to see the Crank case end in an acquittal or dismissal of charges before his client ever goes to trial. In such a case, Jacqueline Crank’s higher duty of care to Jessica Crank would essentially mean Sherman’s charges would be dismissed.