DA’s office seeks to press charges against teenage cancer victim’s caregivers
Knoxville News-Sentinel, Jan. 20, 2003
By JAMIE SATTERFIELD
After suffering a lop-sided loss in round one, Loudon County prosecutors are preparing to up the stakes in round two of their battle to put the mother and “spiritual father” of a teenage cancer victim behind bars.
Jacqueline P. Crank, whose 15-year-old daughter died in September from cancer, and Ariel Ben Sherman, termed the girl’s “spiritual father” in court records, had faced felony abuse and neglect charges for failing to seek treatment for the girl.
But that changed last month when a judge ruled prosecutors had failed to prove their case against Sherman and had only produced enough evidence to pursue a misdemeanor charge against Crank.
Loudon County Sessions Court Judge William Russell chastised the state for its weak showing of proof at the December hearing. Even Crank’s attorney questioned why prosecutor Phil Smith only summoned one witness to the stand.
Within days of the hearing, Smith left the Loudon County District Attorney’s Office. District Attorney General Scott McCluen won’t say whether Smith resigned or was fired.
“I can’t comment on personnel matters,” McCluen said.
Now, McCluen is looking to a grand jury to reinstate felony charges against Crank and Sherman.
“We’re reviewing the medical (evidence) in that case to see if we can establish a more causal connection,” he said.
Crank and Sherman were accused of failing to follow up on warnings that Crank’s daughter, Jessica Crank, needed medical help for a growth on her shoulder that would eventually grow to the size of a basketball.
Sherman allegedly took Jessica to a clinic last February after she complained about pain in her shoulder and was told she needed further testing. Crank took Jessica to a walk-in clinic last May in Lenoir City for the same shoulder problem. A nurse practitioner allegedly told Crank she needed to take her daughter to the University of Tennessee Medical Center immediately to find out what was causing the growth on her shoulder.
According to court records, Crank never took Jessica to UT Medical Center or any other hospital or doctor. Her attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, has argued Crank decided to rely on prayer.
Lenoir City police launched a search for Jessica soon after clinic personnel notified officers Crank and her daughter never showed up at UT Medical Center. But it took them nearly a month to find her. After the state Department of Children’s Services took Jessica into emergency custody, the teenager was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She died within months of the diagnosis.
At the December hearing, Smith failed to call as witnesses any of the medical professionals who allegedly told Crank to get the teenager help. At one point in the hearing, Smith even agreed with Isaacs that the state had not shown Crank’s alleged inaction caused Jessica “serious bodily injury.”
He also offered no proof that Sherman had any legal obligation to help the girl. Although there are records indicating that Sherman, at times, contended he was married to Crank, Smith did not produce a marriage license to prove it.
Isaacs said late last week he was “surprised to learn (Smith) had left office shortly after the hearing.”
“We have not received any information from any representatives of the county district attorney’s office or law enforcement (since the hearing),” he said.
The case has drawn national attention because of questions it raises about parental rights and faith healing. It has also tugged at the heartstrings of officers and detectives involved in the case.
Loudon County Sheriff’s Department Detective John Houston was so moved by the case that he raised money to buy a marker for Jessica’s grave, Sheriff Tim Guider said.
“He just became pretty close to Jessica during (the investigation),” Guider said. “He’d take her root beer all the time.”
Guider called it “ironic” that the first donation for the marker came from Isaacs, who gave Houston $200 on the day of the preliminary hearing.
“We were pleased to contribute,” Isaacs said.
He said he did not know why Jessica’s grave was unmarked or why her mother or members of her church had not purchased a tombstone or marker.