Jury deliberates fate of parents in faith-healing case

Dale and Shannon Hickman failed their newborn son at several points in his ever-so-brief life, prosecutors said Wednesday during closing arguments of the Oregon City couple’s trial.

Steve Mayes reports in The Oregonian

The Hickmans are charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of their son, David, who was born two months early and lived less than nine hours. Oregon law requires parents to seek adequate medical care for their children and to be aware of risks that would be obvious to a reasonable person.

Jurors, who begin deliberating today, also may consider a lesser charge, second-degree criminal mistreatment.

[Prosecutor Mike] Regan told jurors that the deck was stacked against David because the Hickmans and their relatives are members of the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City church that uses faith-healing rituals and rejects medical treatment. “I respect the fact that they lost their son” and grieve for him, Regan said. David Hickman was doomed because “he was born into an ideology that does not believe in medical care.” Regan said.

Defense attorneys said the Hickmans and their church are victims of religious persecution and were targeted by the district attorney’s office.

Mark Cogan, Dale Hickman’s attorney, urged jurors to set aside the role of religion in the case. “We’re not here to debate theology,” Cogan said. “All religions have beliefs and practices that when put under the microscope” look strange to outsiders, Cogan said. “The Followers of Christ church is not on trial.”

Regan told jurors that everyone at the birth knew David faced serious risks. “These people are not stupid.”

For those who believe as the Hickmans do, “that moment of life and death … is when God is testing your faith,” Regan said. “Faith healing in life-and-death situations is illegal. […]

Prosecutor John Wentworth said the Hickmans ignored glaring signals that David, who would have celebrated his second birthday this past Monday, was in danger. David’s underdeveloped lungs made him struggle for every breath until he weakened and died, Wentworth said. […]

Wentworth told jurors that the Hickmans use dentists and eye doctors and noted that they called on a medical doctor to testify on their behalf during trial, saying “trust what he has to say even though we don’t.”

“The hypocrisy in this case,” Wentworth said, “is overwhelming.”

Research resources on the Followers of Christ Church
Research resources on faith healing

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