Mother, spiritual leader convicted of neglect in teen’s death

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A decade-long court dispute over a child neglect case that spawned a legal battle over faith healing, ended Tuesday with two guilty convictions for the girls’ mother and friend — Jacqueline Crank and her spiritual leader Ariel Ben Sherman

WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee, reports

Jacqueline Crank and her spiritual leader, Ariel Sherman, were sentenced to 11 months, 29 days of unsupervised probation.

Crank’s daughter, Jessica, died of a rare form of cancer in 2002. […]

Tuesday, the two were both found guilty of misdemeanor child neglect. 

Sherman and Crank say they will appeal the conviction.

Both Crank and Sherman initially faced felony child abuse charges for allegedly failing to heed advice from medical professionals that Jessica needed treatment for a large growth on her shoulder.

The felony charges against both were dismissed during a December, 2002 preliminary hearing after Judge William Russell ruled the state had failed to make its case.

In April, 2003 a Loudon County grand jury indicted Jacqueline P. Crank, 42, and Ariel Ben Sherman, 74, on a single count of misdemeanor child abuse and neglect for their alleged failure to seek treatment for the girl.

The Knoxville News Sentinel notes

However, Judge Eugene Eblen’s decision was merely a prelude to a legal battle to be fought in the appellate courts over two key issues: When may a parent eschew medicine in favor of prayer and what legal duty of care does a spiritual adviser owe his or her flock? […]

Sherman and Jacqueline Crank were charged with aggravated child abuse and neglect, a major felony. But prosecutor Frank Harvey explained today those charges were dismissed because doctors opined Jessica likely would have died even if her mother had followed the clinic’s advice to seek immediate medical care.

The state persisted with a misdemeanor case primarily because the law on faith healing and the duty of care by someone like Sherman, who holds themselves out to be a parental figure, is unsettled in Tennessee.

Attorneys for Crank and Sherman say they will appeal the conviction.

In May 2008, WBIR said

Bosch says Sherman could not have sought medical help for Jessica Crank, even if he wanted to. […]

Sherman lived with Crank, but according to Bosch, he had no legal authority to take her to the hospital.

“There was only one person that could have done that, and that was her mother,” [Sherman’s attorney Don] Bosch said. “It takes a very unique and legally established relationship for any adult to authorize medical care for a minor. Unless you’re that child’s parent, or you have a contractual duty as a teacher or a baby-sitter, you can not authorize care in a situation such as cancer.”

The state argued the case should go to trial. It contends Sherman was more than a pastor and had an obligation to seek medical care.

“He had a duty to pursue it, not to authorize it, but to pursue it,” Senior Counsel Elizabeth Ryan told the justices. “Because of how he held himself out to the community, as her father, as her caretaker.”

The court’s decision could lay out consequences for other caretakers. Bosch cautioned justices not to open a “Pandora’s box” by making it a criminal offense for anyone with any type of relationship with a child not to take action.

“What this case could signal would be a criminal responsibility,” Bosch explained. “For that person to scoop up a minor child — not theirs — and change the course and decision the parents have made for that child.”

That’s one reason this case has gained national attention.

If the neglect cases against Sherman and Jacqueline Crank go forward, they’re expected to test state laws that allow parents to make medical decisions based on their faith. That was called the “800-pound gorilla in the room” Wednesday.

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016