Parents indicted in baby’s death
July 2, 2004
Michael W. Hoskins
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Friday July 2, 2004
The parents of a baby girl who died of a treatable infection shortly after birth will face criminal charges for not seeking medical attention because of their religious beliefs.
DeWayne and Maleta Schmidt of Franklin instead asked church elders in Morgantown to pray for their daughter, Rhiana Rose Schmidt, in the hours after her birth last summer.
The baby died less than two days later, and an autopsy ruled she died of puerperal sepsis, a general infection acquired at birth and typically treated by antibiotics.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office investigated the death and forwarded the case to the prosecutor, who decided 10 months after the death to ask a grand jury to decide whether the parents should face charges.
On Thursday afternoon, after two days of hearing testimony, the six-member grand jury decided that both parents should be charged with reckless homicide, a Class C felony that carries a penalty of two to eight years in prison.
Grand juries do not decide guilt or innocence. Instead, the jurors decide whether a suspect should be charged. They decide if probable cause exists in the case and evaluate whether any charges can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The parents could plead guilty or eventually go to trial and face a jury that would determine guilt or innocence.
“They did have a legitimate religious belief, but that not seeking (medical) treatment under those circumstances resulted in reckless homicide,” Johnson County Prosecutor Lance Hamner said.
A man who identified himself as DeWayne Schmidt on the telephone said Thursday evening he had not yet heard about the grand jury’s decision. He hung up the phone and could not be reached again.
No one answered the phone at the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn in Morgantown, where the Schmidts were members at the time of their daughter’s death.
The church advocates faith healing instead of medical intervention. The Schmidts told investigators they knew the baby was ill but believed it was wrong to rely on medicine over God’s will, sheriff’s deputies said in August.
Tom Nation, a respected leader at the congregation, said in August that the church does not shun members who seek medical treatment, but some view it as a weakness of faith. Their actions must be judged by God, he said, and not by other people.
The infant’s death was the third such death involving untreated children whose parents are members of the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn.
The Morgantown church’s position on medicine is based primarily on a Bible verse from James 5:12-16. The citation reads in part: “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
Under Indiana law, depriving a child of medical care is felony neglect, except when it was deprived because of the parents’ religious beliefs.
In similar cases nationwide and in Indiana during the 1980s, parents have been charged with or convicted of child neglect, involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide, Hamner said.
Warrants for the couple’s arrest will be issued out of Johnson County’s Superior Court 2 early next week, Hamner said.
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