Jury selection starts in child’s faith healing death case

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In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the jury selection process is under way for the trial of a woman accused of relying on faith and prayer, rather than seeking medical care, to treat her 9-year-old son who died of diabetes-related complications.

Susan M. Grady, 43, Grady is on trial on a charge of second-degree manslaughter in connection with her son’s death.

The Tulsa World reports

That charge involves “culpable negligence” – an omission to do something that a reasonably careful person would do, or failure to use ordinary care and caution in the performance of an act usually and ordinarily exercised by a person under similar circumstances and conditions.

Second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum prison term of four years.

Prosecutors allege she acted with culpable negligence toward her 9-year-old son, Aaron Grady, between June 2 and June 5, 2009, by failing to get medical care or treatment for the boy, thereby causing his condition to worsen increasingly and causing him to suffer and ultimately die, according to the charge.


Aaron, who weighed 52 pounds, died June 5, 2009, at the family’s Broken Arrow home from complications of diabetes mellitus, a medical examiner reported.

According to an affidavitPDF file filed for a December 2010 hearing Susan Grady told Detective M. Mooney that she is a “member of the Church of the First Born and believes in faith based healing through prayer.”

The defendant stated Aaron had been sick since 06.02.09 but believed he was getting better because his breathing was not as rapid and he had stopped throwing-up. The defendant advised Aaron was not talking or responding on 06.05.09 and she knew Aaron was really sick; therefore, she continued to pray and have others pray for Aaron. The defendant did not consider taking Aaron to the doctor and stated, “I was trying to live by faith and I felt that God would heal him.”

The same affidavit said that Kevin Branham

will testify that he is the defendant’s brother and the defendant lives by faith and healing through prayer. He will testify he visited Aaron on 06.05.09. Aaron was lethargic and was urinating on himself. Aaron was breathing hard but was eating chicken broth. He will testify he was present when his father, Aaron Sr., spoke to the defendant about medical intervention; however, the defendant chose to continue to pray and “leave this in the hands of the Lord.”

Faith Healing
The term ‘faith healing’ refers to healing that occurs supernaturally — as the result of prayer rather than the use of medicines or the involvement of physicians or other medical care.
But while faith healings do take place today just as they did in the early Christian church, the teachings of some churches, movements and individuals on this subject amount to spiritual abuse.
Legitimate churches and movements do not equal using drugs or receiving proper medical attention with unbelief, insufficient faith, or otherwise sinning against God.

Commentary/resources by ReligionNewsBlog.com

Tulsa World religion reporter Bill Sherman says

Two other Oklahoma children whose parents attend a Church of the Firstborn have died in recent months without medical care, according to media reports.

Troy Damelio, 4, died April 26 at his family’s trailer home in rural Lincoln County after being sick for a week, and Silas Benjamin Dobbs died hours after his at-home birth in December in Oklahoma City. His mother, Patricia Dobbs, 25, died 20 days later. No charges have been filed in those deaths.

The Church of the Firstborn is a network of more than 100 churches in 20 states.

Its most recent national directory lists 41 churches in Oklahoma, more than any other state. […]

Of the 10 church leaders listed in the Tulsa area, only one would talk to the Tulsa World. Most declined politely or did not return phone calls.

Dan Davis, bishop at the Eastland church, said all of the Church of the Firstborn congregations are strictly Bible-based.

“We conduct our lives by the New Testament,” he said.

“We’re a peaceful people. We’re a God-fearing people. We don’t want to impose on anyone,” he said.

“We just want to help, by living a righteous life that’s a good example.

“It is our belief that God can heal any illness,” he said.

“I know if we put all our trust in God, he can heal us. But that doesn’t mean it’s up to me to condemn someone that seeks other attention.

“We don’t force people, we don’t coerce people, we don’t judge people,” he said.

“We try to teach the truth. Every person has to make their own decision.”

Andrea Vandiver, who left the Church of the Firstborn four years ago when she was 20, is expected to testify at the Grady trial that “a major tenet of the church is to rely on faith alone, in lieu of medical care, for the treatment of disease or illness,” according to a court document filed by Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Sarah McAmis, who declined to discuss the case.

One Oklahoma woman who did not want to be identified said she was born and raised in the church and left when she was in her late 20s.

She said church leaders do not forbid going to doctors, “but if you do go to the doctor, they look at you as weak and treat you different.”

“They might not kick you out, but they might as well kick you out … You’re shunned.

“Many of them do go to the doctor, but they try to keep it quiet.”

She said she has seen adults die before their time, “but they have a mind of their own. That’s different. Children don’t know any better. That’s why they need adults.”

She said church leaders say children are free to go to the doctor, but “if you take a 10-year-old raised from birth believing this, and ask them if they want to go to the doctor, they’ll say no because they’re so brainwashed.”

“They’re taught that that’s a sin. […]

An Oklahoma man who was baptized into the church as an adult and later left said different Church of the Firstborn congregations have different levels of strictness. Some congregations allow their members to go to the doctor.

Sherman also notes

Rita Swan, with the organization CHILD (Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty), is coming to Tulsa for the Grady trial.

She said Oklahoma’s law on criminal neglect includes an exemption that allows parents to withhold medical care on religion grounds, an exemption she believes should be repealed.

In the Grady case, prosecutors amended the charges from criminal neglect to second-degree manslaughter, which has no religious exemption.

According to Emory Bryan, reporting on Oklahoma’s KOTV

Swan says 2 years ago, Oklahoma’s legislators created one of the country’s most extreme religious exemptions for charges of child neglect.

She believes several children – and young mothers in labor – have died in the last six months – while the law protected those around them who could have intervened.

“We really don’t want Oklahoma to be saying that parents have the right to withhold insulin from a diabetic child if they belong to certain churches,” Swan said.

Bryan says Swan became an expert on parents who let their children die while they wait on divine healing:

“We were devout lifelong Christian Scientists until 1977, when we lost our only son to a treatable illness because of following the traditional Christian Scientist beliefs against medical care,” Swan said.

Tulsa’s ABC affiliate KTUL TV says Susan Grady’s attorney calls the charges against her a challenge to faith

Prior to jury selection Tuesday, attorneys argued over which photos should be allowed in court. Prosecutors contend photos of the boy in an “emaciated and deteriorating state” speak toward accusations of neglect.

The trial is expected to take all week.

Other faith healing cases involving the Church of the First Born
Research resources on the General Assembly and Church of the First Born
Research resources on faith healing

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016