Mother accused of child abuse for using prayer instead of medicine to heal dying daughter
In a controversial motion filed by defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs, Jacqueline Crank is asking a Loudon County Criminal Court judge to allow Isaacs to quote Scripture.
Crank, 43, and Ariel Ben Sherman, 75, are set to stand trial Jan. 19 on misdemeanor charges of child abuse and neglect in connection with the 2002 death of 15-year-old Jessica Crank.
Jessica died from a rare form of bone cancer. Authorities contend Jessica’s mother and Sherman, who has been branded by some as a cult leader and was identified as Jessica’s “spiritual father,” ignored medical professionals’ advice to get the girl treatment for the large growth on her shoulder.
Initially, the couple was charged with felony child abuse charges, and officials threatened to boost them to murder charges once Jessica died. But a Loudon County judge ruled at a preliminary hearing in December 2002 that prosecutors had failed to make their case and dismissed charges.
District Attorney General Scott McCluen then took the case to a Loudon County grand jury, which returned misdemeanor child abuse charges against the pair.
Jessica came to the attention of law enforcement in May 2002 when her mother took her to a walk-in emergency clinic in Lenoir City because of the growth on her shoulder.
Clinic personnel arranged for Jessica to be seen that same day at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, but the teenager never arrived. Authorities launched a search for the girl, who was living on Wheat Road in Loudon County with Sherman, her mother, her younger brother and several members of Sherman’s New Life Tabernacle group.
Authorities finally learned her address in late June 2002. By then, however, her cancer was too advanced to save her. She died a few months later.
Isaacs contends in his motion that Jacqueline Crank twice sought medical help for Jessica but then “relied upon her faith and attempted to heal her daughter with prayer, faith and religious ceremonies.” This, he said, was her right as a parent.
She now should be able to rely on her faith and its source – the Bible – in her defense, Issacs wrote in the motion.
Courts typically frown on, if not outright ban, the use of biblical scriptures in the courtroom. Appellate courts have ruled that the use of the Bible in legal proceedings may cause jurors to decide based on their own personal biases rather than the facts at hand.
McCluen has not yet filed a response to Isaacs’ motion. Attorney Don Bosch, who represents Sherman, is also asking that prosecutors be barred from using the word “cult” during the trial.
Isaacs said Tuesday his client’s case represents “a quintessential battle between science, faith, government and religious freedoms.”
“It is ironic that Ms. Crank is being prosecuted for relying on her faith after going to doctors, but may not be allowed to rely on her faith before the jury,” he said.