November 28, 2014

Supreme Court upholds convictions in prayer death case

The Wisconsin state Supreme Court has upheld the convictions of two parents who chose prayer over seeking medical attention for their dying daughter. Dale and Leilani Neumann were convicted of second-degree reckless homicide in 2009 for the death of their 11-year-old daughter Madeline Kara Neumann, who died on Easter Sunday 2008 from complications with her undiagnosed diabetes.

The Weston couple had chosen to pray, rather than seek medical attention, as their daughter became too weak to speak, drink, or even walk. They were charged and convicted, despite arguing that a state law that protects faith healing should have applied to them in this case.

The Neumanns claimed that they believed Kara’s illness had spiritual causes and that prayer would allow God to heal her.

Dale and Leilani were given one month in jail each year for six years. The Supreme Court was asked to take the case up directly on appeal and it issued a 6-1 ruling today upholding the convictions.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:29)

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said that a jury could reasonably find that, given Kara’s “coma-like condition,” the parents were aware that death was possible and that they caused it by not seeking medical help. The court upheld the idea that the faith healing exemption is meant to prevent parents who choose to pray from being charged with child abuse,  but does not stop them from being prosecuted for homicide if a child dies.

Justice David Prosser dissented, writing that the case is a tragedy in virtually every respect. However, he said state laws on immunity show “serious deficiencies,” which should be addressed by the Legislature.

Attorney Byron Lichstein, who represented Leilani Neumann in the appeal, says the family was disappointed by the ruling, and is still considering what their options may be going forward.