Defense attorneys focus on prosecution’s role in Followers of Christ manslaughter case

Defense attorneys representing Dale and Shannon Hickman tried to turn the tables Thursday by making the Clackamas County district attorney’s office the focus of their clients’ faith-healing homicide trial.

The Oregonian reports

The Hickmans’ defense team started the trial’s second day by grilling Jeff McLennan, an investigator for the state medical examiner’s office. The couple is accused of second-degree manslaughter for failing to provide medical care for their newborn son.

Mark Cogan, Dale Hickman’s attorney, bore in on a memo McLennan wrote in September 2009, two days after the Hickmans’ son died. The baby was born two months’ premature with underdeveloped lungs and a deadly bacterial infection. He lived less than nine hours.

McLennan wrote that prosecutor Mike Regan was concerned that he and detectives investigating the death might not be giving it enough scrutiny. Regan also had doubts that those present at the birth were being truthful about events and may have misled investigators. [...]

The defense played some short videoclips of the baby, David Arthur Hickman, shortly after his birth. The baby appears reddish-pink and is crying and waving his arms. The defense contends that the infant was doing well until 10 or 15 minutes before he died.

Prosecutor John Wentworth noted that the videos provided a snapshot of the baby’s condition at birth but not the child’s condition over the following eight hours.

Lead Detective Brian Pearson described arriving at the Hickman home about five hours after the baby died. A church official told investigators that none of those present would agree to a one-on-one interview, Pearson said.

Wentworth played a taped interview conducted with Dale Hickman — the only person who answered detectives’ questions — in a bedroom at Shannon Hickman’s parents’ house, where the birth occurred. The body of David Hickman was at the floor of the bed, wrapped in a blanket.

Several relatives and a church official were present during the interview.

Pearson asked Hickman if he considered that the baby might not survive.

“Yeah, that was in the back of my mind,” said Hickman, who spoke through tears and obvious grief. Asked if he would do anything different, Pearson said “no.” It was God’s will and nothing could have been done to prevent the death, Hickman said.

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.

Earlier this week The Oregonian reported that

Attorneys for Dale and Shannon Hickman vowed Wednesday to show the Clackamas County district attorney’s office engaged in “meddling, interference and questionable conduct” in prosecuting the couple in the 2009 death of their newborn son.

The DA’s office “tried to put its thumb on the scales of justice,” defense attorney Mark Cogan said in his opening statement.

“You, ladies and gentlemen, are our protection against tyranny,” Cogan told jurors. “There are times like this, when law enforcement has gone too far and has strayed into persecution of innocent people. We are calling upon you … to bring that to a stop.”

The Hickmans are charged with second-degree manslaughter. Their son David Hickman, was born prematurely with under-developed lungs and a deadly bacterial infection. He lived less than nine hours.

Prosecutors said in opening statements that the Hickmans failed to be aware their baby faced a substantial and obvious risk and failed to provide the medical care a reasonable person would.

Shannon Hickman had a miscarriage in 2008, fell two weeks before David’s birth, and did not get prenatal care from anyone with a medical education, prosecutors said. The Hickmans knew their baby was born two months early but did not transport the baby to a hospital, which prosecutors said is the standard level of care for a premature infant. [...]

The Hickmans are the fourth Followers of Christ couple to stand trial in recent years for failing to provide medical care for a child. Defendants in the prior cases also claimed that they were unaware that their children faced serious or deadly medical conditions. Prosecutors argued that the parents had ample warning but refused to act for religious reasons. Five of the six defendants were convicted. Until then, none had been in trouble with the law.

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