Court upholds parents' convictions in prayer death
By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A mother and father who prayed instead of seeking medical help as their daughter died in front of them were properly convicted of homicide, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Eleven-year-old Madeline Kara Neumann died of undiagnosed diabetes on Easter Sunday in March 2008 at her parents' Weston home. Prosecutors said her parents, Dale and Leilani Neuman, ignored obvious symptoms of severe illness as their daughter became too weak to speak, eat, drink or walk, choosing to pray rather than take her to a doctor. After the girl died, Leilani Neumann told police God would raise the child from the dead.
Doctors testified that Madeline would have had a good chance of survival if she had received medical care, including insulin and fluids, before she stopped breathing.
Marathon County prosecutors charged the couple with second-degree reckless homicide. Separate juries convicted each of them in 2009. They each faced up to 25 years in prison, but a judge instead ordered each to serve a month in jail each year for six years, with one parent serving every March and the other every September.
The couple's attorneys argued that Wisconsin law protects people from being charged with child abuse if they provide spiritual treatment for a child in lieu of medical assistance. They contended the law protects parents from criminal liability through the point of creating a substantial risk of death, making it difficult to know when a situation has become so serious that parents who stay with prayer healing become criminally liable. State attorneys countered that parents are immune from child abuse charges but not homicide counts. Once they realize a child could die, their immunity ends, they argued.
More than a dozen states have some form of legal protection for parents who choose prayer healing for their children over conventional medical attention. But they've been wrestling for years with how far those protections go.
Wisconsin's 3rd District Court of Appeals sent the Neumann's appeal straight to the state Supreme Court without ruling on it, calling the case unique.
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