Trial date set for mother and ‘spiritual father’ in faith healing case

Religion News Blog — Nearly ten years ago the mother and ‘spiritual father’ of a 15-year-old girl who died of bone cancer were charged for failing to heed advice from medical professionals and instead relying solely on faith healing.

The trial of Jacqueline Pearl Crank and her minister, Ariel Ben Sherman, has now been set for May 8 in Loudon County Circuit Court.

Jessica Lynn Crank died in September, 2002 from a rare form of bone cancer.

The mother, Jaqueline Pearl Crank, was a member of New Life Ministries (also referred to as ‘New Life Tabernacle’ and ‘Universal Life Church’) — a small home-based religious group led by Ariel Ben Sherman. Sherman has been referred to in court as the girl’s ‘spiritual father.’

Both Crank and Sherman initially faced felony child abuse charges for allegedly failing to heed advice from medical professionals that Jessica needed treatment for a large growth on her shoulder.

The felony charges against both were dismissed during a December, 2002 preliminary hearing after Judge William Russell ruled the state had failed to make its case.


In April, 2003 a Loudon County grand jury indicted Jacqueline P. Crank, 42, and Ariel Ben Sherman, 74, on a single count of misdemeanor child abuse and neglect for their alleged failure to seek treatment for the girl.

At the time KnoxNews.com explained

Jessica’s condition came to the attention of law enforcement last May 6 when her mother took her to a walk-in emergency clinic in Lenoir City. Authorities have alleged Jessica had a basketball-sized 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 with the Lenoir City Police Department launched a search for the girl and her mother.

Authorities finally found Jessica June 26 at a house on Wheat Road in Loudon County that was being leased by Sherman. Jessica, her mother and her younger brother, Israel, were living there, along with several members of Sherman’s New Life Tabernacle group.

By then, her cancer was too advanced to save her. Her mother and Sherman were at her bedside when she died.

The News-Herald reports

The trials for Crank and Sherman have been continued numerous times. Harvey said the continuances have been a matter of getting everything coordinated in court.

In addition to interlocutory appeals that were filed, the prosecutor said, “We have been trying to resolve some issues with proof and witness problems.”

Despite the continuances, the prosecution intends to bring the case to court. […]

In 2003, then Loudon County General Sessions Judge Bill Russell dismissed the charge against Sherman, ruling the state failed to show minister Sherman had any responsibility for Jessica Crank. But, in 2008 the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the neglect case against Sherman.

Harvey said the defendants attempted to take the case up on an interlocutory appeal for the court to determine some legal questions involved in the case and the state court declined to do so. An interlocutory appeal is an appeal prior to a trial of a case based on its merits, Harvey said.

In 2009, Loudon County Criminal Court Judge Eugene Eblen declined to dismiss child neglect charges against Jacqueline Crank and Sherman, but he also ruled defense attorneys Gregory P. Isaacs and Donald A. Bosch could file an emergency appeal to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016