Both parents were found guilty of second-degree manslaughter, a Class B felony that requires a sentence of at least six years and three months in prison under Measure 11, Oregon’s mandatory sentencing law. However, because of a religious exemption that was eliminated after the Hickmans were indicted, they could face no more than 18 months in prison and a $250,000 fine.
After the jury left the courtroom, the Hickmans stood and embraced. Shannon Hickman pressed her face against her husband’s chest and sobbed.
The couple, who have two other children, will be sentenced Oct. 31. Prosecutors asked that they be held in jail until sentencing, but Judge Robert Herndon allowed them to remain free until then.
The Hickmans are members of Oregon City’s Followers of Christ church, which has a long history of children dying from treatable conditions because their parents relied on faith healing rather than taking them to doctors. In response to such cases, legislators this year removed religious exemptions from Oregon’s criminal statutes.
As word got out that the jury had reached a verdict, the Clackamas County courtroom filled with about 80 friends and family from the Followers of Christ church. Among those present Carl and Raylene Worthington, another Followers of Christ couple tried in the faith-healing death of a child. Carl Worthington was convicted of criminal mistreatment and sentenced in 2009 to six months in jail. Raylene Worthington was acquitted. […]
Defense attorneys contended the Hickmans were singled out for prosecution because of their religious beliefs, noting that the district attorney waited a year to file charges against the Hickmans, indicting them shortly after the arrests of Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, also members of the church.
The Wylands failed to take their infant daughter to a doctor for a growth that almost destroyed her left eye. They were convicted in June of criminal mistreatment and sentenced to 90 days in jail. The back-to-back arrests of the two couples further inflamed public animosity toward the church, the defense attorneys said.
Two days after the Wylands were convicted, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a law that removed the remnants of Oregon’s legal protection for parents who rely solely on faith healing to meet their children’s medical needs. The law, a direct response to the Followers of Christ cases, eliminates spiritual treatment as a defense against all homicide charges and subjects parents to mandatory sentencing under Oregon’s Measure 11.
Unless the law changes again, the Hickmans will be the last Oregon parents protected by religious exemptions to state homicide statutes.