Jurors in faith-healing trial say evidence overpowered a weak defense

Dale and Shannon Hickman tightly embraced and trembled in tears Thursday after a Clackamas County jury found them guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the faith-healing death of their newborn son.

The Oregonian says

Jurors deliberated less than four hours and their verdict sent another resounding warning to the members of the Hickmans’ church, the Followers of Christ, that failing to provide medical care to critically ill children is unacceptable and will be punished.

The Followers have a long history of children dying from treatable medical conditions, and Oregon has a history of granting legal protections to faith healers.

But because of a recent change in state law, the Hickmans could be the last Oregon parents to receive special consideration when they are sentenced Oct. 31.

Defense attorneys argued that their clients were being prosecuted for their religious views.

The jury found the Hickmans’ defense unpersuasive and flawed, said jury foreman Collin Fleming. And the testimony of the Hickmans and other family members worked against them, he said. […]

Jurors said disregard for the child’s life left them little choice. A straw poll taken at the start of deliberations found at least nine of the jurors ready to convict.

The Hickmans’ attorneys, John Neidig and Mark Cogan, declined comment, as did Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote. […]

Generally, jurors said they didn’t believe some defense witnesses and found some defense arguments unsupported by the facts. “They misstated things, evidence,” juror Mike Brokaw said. […]

Prosecutors provided a timeline that showed there was as much as 45 minutes between the time the baby’s condition noticeably changed and his death, more than enough time to get emergency medical help. Instead, Dale Hickman held his son and anointed him with oil. He said he was with the baby for five or 10 minutes. […]

Some of the most damning testimony came from the Hickmans and their relatives — all lifelong members of the Followers of Christ.

The church witnesses exhibited “a fatalistic attitude all the way,” Fleming said.

Prosecutors said David Hickman’s fate was sealed when he took his first breath. The boy — a great-great grandson of church founder Walter White — would never have received medical treatment, regardless of his condition. They said he was born into a family bound to the belief that life-and-death decisions were a test of faith. God, not doctors, would determine who survives and who succumbs — even when an illness is treatable by medicine or a minor medical procedure.

That point was made clear by Lavona Keith, a church midwife and Shannon Hickman’s aunt. “It wasn’t God’s will for David to live,” she told jurors.

Dale and Shannon Hickman made similar statements. […]

Oregon law has changed dramatically since the 1995, when legislators introduced a religious defense to state homicide statutes. The state cracked down on the exemptions after a series of faith-healing deaths in 1999 and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a law in June eliminating the last remnants of Oregon’s “spiritual healing defense.”

Parents who practice faith healing are now held to the same child-protection standards as those who don’t.

House Bill 2721 “Eliminates reliance on spiritual treatment as defense to certain crimes in which victim is under 18 years of age” [Full text PDF file]
Research resources on Followers of Christ Church, theologically a cult of Christianity
Research resources on faith healing
Online book: Churches That Abuse
Cult FAQ

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday September 30, 2011.
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