Couple face more charges in girl’s death, Apr. 17, 2003

A couple who faced felony child abuse charges last year in connection with the death of a 15-year-old Loudon County girl now have been indicted on misdemeanor charges in the case.

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 Crank’s terminally ill daughter. The indictments were released Wednesday.

Jessica Crank, 15, died of bone cancer in September at the home she shared with her mother and Sherman, who has been referred to in court as the teenager’s “spiritual father.”

Crank and Sherman had 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.

Attorneys for the couple contended they turned to prayer in lieu of medical treatment for the girl, which they argue is allowed under Tennessee law.

The felony charges against both were dismissed during a December preliminary hearing after Judge William Russell ruled the state had failed to make its case. He sent a misdemeanor child abuse charge against Crank on to a Loudon County grand jury for consideration.

Attorneys for the pair learned of the indictments late Wednesday. A misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum sentence of a day short of a year.

Attorney Donald A. Bosch, who represents Sherman, said Wednesday it has already been shown that prosecutors have no case against his client.

“I am surprised that authorities in Loudon County even presented this matter to a grand jury, given the complete and total absence of law to support the prosecution of Mr. Sherman,” Bosch said.

Crank’s attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, said he was pleased that the grand jury chose not to pursue felony charges.

“Ms. Crank intends to enter a plea of not guilty at her arraignment,” Isaacs said before adding, “We intend to renew the motion to dismiss the charge based upon my client’s exercise of her religious freedom.”

An arraignment for the couple is set for Monday.

Both lawyers indicated late last year they feared that Loudon County prosecutors would seek murder indictments against Crank and Sherman, who now live in the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood in Knoxville. Sherman still heads the same religious group of which Jessica was a member.

Loudon County District Attorney General Scott McCluen had threatened to seek tougher charges shortly after the preliminary hearing. Assistant District Attorney General Phil Smith, who handled that hearing, abruptly resigned after Russell’s ruling.

McCluen did not return calls this week about the case.

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.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday April 19, 2003.
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