Oregon Faith-Healing Couple Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison

A couple from an infamous faith-healing church was sentenced to more than six years in prison by an Oregon judge who believed the death of their newborn son was avoidable.

Receiving their sentencing Monday after being found guilty by a jury of second-degree manslaughter in September, Dale and Shannon Hickman were given 75 months of prison with three years of probation, according to The Oregonian.

The Hickmans received the mandatory minimum prison term under state guidelines.

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They were on trial for killing their baby, David Hickman, who died just nine hours after his birth in 2009. He was born two months premature and weighed less than four pounds. An autopsy found that he had underdeveloped lungs and staph pneumonia.

Prosecutors accused the couple of not seeking emergency medical care for their child after the infant developed severe health problems. Shannon opted to give birth at her mother’s house and not a hospital when she went into labor two months before her due date.

The Hickmans belonged to the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, a congregation known to shun medical treatment in favor of faith healing.

Several of their church members were also found guilty of similar crimes previously. Majority of the congregants opted to pray and lay their hands on the sick for healing instead of taking them to the hospital, leading to many preventable deaths.

In the case of the Hickmans, when their baby’s health began failing after his premature birth, the father responded by praying and anointing him with olive oil instead of seeking proper medical treatment.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that the couple had ample time to get medical assistance after the premature birth of their baby. Pediatric experts testified that if they had done so, the infant would have had a 99 percent chance of survival.

Shannon Hickman’s defense lawyer John Neidig argued that his defendant could not call for help because her church taught that husbands were to make all decisions in the household. Neidig had asked the judge for special consideration for his client because of that reason, though he was not granted one.

The couple, who had two children to take care of still, pleaded for mercy from the judge, and stated that they would be compliant with any court orders for medical care.

They had already taken their 7-year-old and new baby to see a pediatrician, Mark Cogan, Dale Hickman’s defense attorney stated, asking for probation.

Regardless of their pleas, Judge Robert Herndon sentenced them prison time.

“As the evidence enfolded and the witnesses testified, it became evident to me and certainly to the jury...that this death just simply did not need to occur,” The Oregonian quoted Herndon.

“This is a sentence you have justly earned,” he added.

Defense attorneys tried to maintain that the Hickmans were eligible for a lesser sentence under an Oregon law that was in effect when the baby died in 2009, granting parents religious immunity for homicide.

In January 2011, however, HB2721 was introduced into Oregon Legislature, removing religious belief as an affirmative defense for homicide and the bill was signed into law on June 9, 2011.

Prosecutor Mike Regan hoped that the sentencing, the harshest yet among those found guilty at the church, would send a strong message to the church. About 100 church members, including other couples who had been prosecuted as well, sat in the courtroom during the sentencing.

Defense attorneys commented that the couple would appeal the sentence.

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