Jury questions focus on personal freedoms

Jurors were asked if they believed in miracles.

They also were grilled by attorneys on their religious beliefs and government involvement in parental decision-making.

Fourteen people were chosen Friday to determine whether two Johnson County residents are guilty of a crime for favoring prayer over medical treatment and being responsible for their infant daughter’s death. The jury, 10 women and four men, includes two alternates.

Trial starts at 9 a.m. Tuesday for DeWayne and Maleta Schmidt, who each face a charge of reckless homicide for not seeking medical attention for their ailing daughter in August 2003. They contend their religious beliefs prompted them to call church elders to pray for the child.

But the couple, who are both listed as witnesses to testify in their own defense, will not be able to use religious beliefs as a defense, by the judge’s order.

Johnson Superior Court 2 Judge Cynthia Emkes also has restricted prosecutors from presenting evidence or having witnesses give testimony about the couple’s religion.

Unable to go into facts of the case during jury selection Friday, attorneys for both sides delved into philosophical and religious concerns to choose the people who have final say about the Schmidts’ guilt or innocence.

The jury pool included men and women who identified themselves as a nurse, school secretary, farmer, social worker, a minister’s daughter and pastor’s son.

When asked how many people were parents, all but a few of the 16 raised their hands. Potential jurors were asked if they could separate their religious, political or social beliefs from facts presented during trial.

“Do you believe in miracles?” defense attorney Carrie Miles asked.

She later asked people to expound on beliefs about people going to a better place when they die, no matter what the reason or circumstances were.

Both Miles and Johnson County Deputy Prosecutor Daylon Welliver asked them about potential conflicts.

Miles asked jurors to discuss viewpoints on state rules regulating seat-belt use and discipline in school. She also raised questions about seeking second opinions on medical care.

One woman was dismissed because she discussed her respect for Maleta Schmidt, whom she graduated with from Franklin College in 1996. Another was let go when she told attorneys her religious beliefs might be too strong to consider a conviction.

Once the trial starts Tuesday morning, the jurors will be able to go home each night. They will all be sequestered when deliberations begin.

Witness lists turned in by attorneys include investigating police officers, fellow church members, a Franklin College professor of religion and an array of doctors and nurses.

The prosecution’s witness list includes 79 names, but Welliver expects to call fewer than half of them, he said Friday after jury selection was completed.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Daily Journal, USA
May 7, 2005
Michael W. Hoskins

Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday May 8, 2005.
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