Kara Neumann’s faith healing death, five years later

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Five years ago this month, an 11-year-old Wisconsin girl died from a treatable form of diabetes after her parents prayed for healing rather than seek medical treatment.

Dale and Leilani Neumann, the parents of Madeline Kara Neumann, reportedly had no ties to a specific church. Instead they were members of a small Bible study group.

October 6, 2009 Associated Press report on the sentencing of Leilani and Dale Neumann

The Neumanns believe in faith healing — but unlike most other Christians their ideas about this biblical concept were un-biblical.

A local police chief at the time said the Neumanns believed their daughter died because they did not have enough faith.

However, Kara died from complications of diabetic ketoacidosis, a treatable though serious condition of type 1 diabetes in which acid builds up in the blood.

According to the police chief, Kara “had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.”

“It is our understanding that instead of seeking medical help, they chose to pray over her and their faith would heal her,” Vergin said. “She got sicker and sicker until she was dead,” he told The Associated Press.

In 2009 The Neumanns were convicted in separate trials of second-degree reckless homicide.

Both parents told the judge they believe their daughter’s death was an act of God.

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.

But the Neumanns have yet to spend a single day behind bars.

In February 2011 they 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.

But in May 2013 an appeals court subsequently recommended in a written ruling that the Wisconsin Supreme Court hear the case.

Full overview here

WSAW TV says

No decision has been made yet, but attorneys expect one between now and June; a decision that will undoubtedly set a legal precedent in Wisconsin.

The station also reports that

In Wisconsin’s child abuse statute, treatment through prayer, also known as faith healing, is protected, even when it results in great bodily harm of the child.

“The Neumanns were entitled to act under that statutory protection,” said UW-Madison law professor Byron Lichstein. “And that’s why prosecuting them for behavior they were told was legal, creates a constitutional problem.”

Lichstein now represents Leilani Neumann in pursuing the appeal. The judge asked the law school to take the case because it covers new ground in Wisconsin. The issue has never been addressed in the state, and whether or not the convictions are overturned, will affect any future cases of a similar nature.

“What’s at stake for the public is the question of, when is it fair to tell people on one hand, that their behavior is protected, and then to turn around and prosecute them for behavior that they’re told is protected,” Lichstein said. “So it’s important in the general public interest, that the government speak clearly to people about what they are and are not allowed to do. And that’s what’s at stake here. What’s at stake with respect to faith healing, is a question of, should the Legislature amend this law?”

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016