Prosecution, defense present dueling views of infant’s death in faith-healing trial

A prosecutor and defense attorneys presented dueling images of David Arthur Hickman, the newborn at the center of the trial of Shannon and Dale Hickman, in the hours before his death, as well as the investigation that followed.

Nicole Dungca reports in The Oregonian:

Wednesday morning marked the beginning of the trial of Shannon and Dale Hickman, who are charged with second-degree manslaughter in the September 2009 death of their newborn son. David Hickman died less than nine hours after being born, of staph pneumonia, pulmonary immaturity, and chorioamnionitis, which affects fetal membranes through a bacterial infection.

The Hickmans belong to the Followers of Christ Church, an Oregon City congregation that believes in faith-healing over medical care. The church has a long history in Oregon of child deaths involving treatable illnesses, which has led to multiple legislative changes eliminating faith-healing as a defense against criminal charges.

In less than three years, four couples, including the Hickmans, have gone to trial for failing to provide adequate medical care to their children. Three of those cases have involved deaths.

While Deputy District Attorney Mike Regan this morning argued that the Hickmans were “good people” whose steadfast devotion to their faith led to the lack of action that caused their son’s death, defense attorneys accused the district attorney’s office of essentially persecuting the couple because of their affiliation with the Followers of Christ.

KPTV says

The courtroom was occupied mainly by members of the Followers of Christ Church.

Some of them were called on Sept. 26, 2009, when Shannon Hickman began to have contractions.

They joined the parents, midwives, family and friends to pray and anoint the child with oil in accord with their faith. […]

The defense told the jury that prosecutors treated the members of the Hickmans’ church differently. They alleged that county investigators sought to “hijack the body” of David Hickman and have it examined by another doctor before the medical examiner.

“This is a case of malicious prosecution of innocent people who did not commit a crime,” said defense lawyer Mark Cogan.

The first prosecution witness, a deputy county medical examiner, said he knew of no such attitude toward the church nor attempt to “hijack.”

The prosecution concluded its opening statement saying, “You can fail to act and that is a crime if you cause someone’s death.  We are not going to prove that they intended David to die. We are going to prove that they failed to be aware of the risk that he would.”

Oregon Senate votes to end faith healing defense for medical care

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