Lawyers ask Wisconsin Supreme Court to rule in faith healing death

DOJ attorney: Dale, Leilani Neumann caused daughter’s death by praying: The case of a couple convicted of second-degree reckless homicide in the faith healing death of their 11 year-old daughter is being reviewed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

October 6, 2009 Associated Press report on the sentencing of Leilani and Dale Neumann
  • In March 2008 Madeline Kara Neumann, 11, died after her parents — who believe in faith healingtreated her illness by praying instead of getting her medical help.
  • Kara died from complications of diabetic ketoacidosis, a treatable though serious condition of type 1 diabetes in which acid builds up in the blood.
  • In 2009 The Neumanns were convicted in separate trials of second-degree reckless homicide.
  • They each faced up to 25 years in prison, but at their sentencing in October 2009 the Judge recommended a withheld sentence and 10 years of probation with conditions. He ordered that each parent had to serve 30 days a year in jail for six years as a condition of probation.
  • In addition, their surviving children will be subject to regular and random health checkups until they reach the age of 18.
  • Both parents spoke to the judge at their sentencing hearing, calling Kara’s death an act of God, reading Biblical passages, and saying the only thing they’re guilty of is following their faith.
  • The family does not belong to any organized religion, but Leilani Neumann told the Associated Press she believes in the Bible and said that healing comes from God.
  • At her trial a family friend testified that Leilani thought sickness was caused by sin.
  • The Wausau Daily Herald reported that Leilani “had participated in a Web site that shares stories of miracle cures for everything from brain tumors to worn vehicle tires.”
  • Leilani, Dale and Kara Neumann

    Leilani, Dale and Kara Neumann

  • The Unleavened Bread Ministries website promotes the teachings of its founder, David Eells. The site focuses on information about faith healing and the end of the world. In our opinion it amounts to ‘spiritual quackery.’ The views expressed on the site generally do not represent Biblical Christianity. In addition the theology of David Eells (who, for one thing, rejects the doctrine of the Trinity — one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith) marks him as a heretic.
  • In February 2011 the Neumann’s appealed their convictions. Dale Neumann argued he should get a new trial because jurors in his prayer-death trial could have been biased after learning that his wife was previously convicted in the case. Leilani said that her trial attorney should have put stronger emphasis on her sincere belief that prayer is a form of treatment. Their appeal was denied in April 2011.
  • In May this year an appeals court subsequently recommended in a written ruling that the Wisconsin Supreme Court hear the case. The three appeals court judges wrote:

    The statutory construction and constitutional issues raised in these appeals are appropriately decided by the supreme court rather than an error correcting court. The issues raised are matters of first impression in Wisconsin, and the foreign authorities are split on these issues. The issues are likely to arise in future cases.

    We submit that it is appropriate for Wisconsin’s highest court to determine the scope of the prayer treatment exception and to inform trial courts regarding the appropriate jury instructions when that exception is raised in a reckless homicide case.

  • Reporting on the Wisconsin Supreme Court hearing the Associated Press says

    Attorneys for Dale and Leilani Neumann argued that the couple didn’t know when the state’s legal protections for prayer healing ended and criminal liability began.

    But Assistant Attorney General Maura Whelan told the justices that Wisconsin’s religious protections clearly don’t apply when a child dies and the couple caused the death of their 11-year-old daughter, Madeline Kara, who was suffering from undiagnosed diabetes.

    “They created an unreasonable and substantial risk of death,” Whelan said. “They did so knowingly and they caused Kara’s death.”

    The Neumanns are appealing their conviction in a case that poses charged questions for the justices about when the state’s responsibility to protect children trumps religious freedom.

    More than a dozen states have some form of legal protection for parents who choose to heal their children through prayer rather than seek conventional medical help, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The states have been grappling for years with how far those protections extend…

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  • In a January 2009 article on the Neumann case, the New York Times reported

    About 300 children have died in the United States in the last 25 years after medical care was withheld on religious grounds, said Rita Swan, executive director of Children’s Health Care Is a Legal Duty, a group based in Iowa that advocates punishment for parents who do not seek medical help when their children need it.

    Criminal codes in 30 states, including Wisconsin, provide some form of protection for practitioners of faith healing in cases of child neglect and other matters, protection that Ms. Swan’s group opposes.

  • AP says that “It’s unclear when the court might rule. The justices face no deadline and they often take months to issue decisions.”

Wisconsin Court of Appeals Certification PDF file
Information and research resources on faith healing
When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law (Amazon.com), by Shawn Francis Peters. Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.
More articles about faith healing cases

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