Wis. Supreme Court Justices Uphold Murder Charges for Faith-Healing Couple

Wisconsin's Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it will uphold the previous ruling for parents Leilani and Dale Neumann, who were convicted of second degree reckless homicide in 2009 after the death of their 11-year-old daughter. They couple had refused to seek medical treatment for their daughter due to their religious beliefs.

The couple, who identified themselves as Pentecostal Christians from the rural Weston area of the state, gained national media coverage in 2008 when they failed to seek medical care for their daughter, Madeline Kara Neumann, who died of an acute diabetic reaction.

The parents admitted in court that due to their religious beliefs, they chose to pray over Madeline instead of seek medical help because seeking professional aid would be seen as a betrayal to God and his ability to cure the sick.

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Attorneys for the Neumanns sought to argue to the state's Supreme Court that their clients were wrongfully convicted of second degree homicide because Wisconsin's statute grants legal protection to religious parents who seek to heal their child spiritually, instead of medically.

The lawyers defending the Neumanns argued that the statute is unclear about when this legal protection ends and the parents are required to seek medical help for their child in order to avoid criminal charges.

State attorneys argued, however, that although the state statute protects parents from child abuse charges, it does not protect them from homicide charges. The Neumanns should have sought medical attention because their child exhibited obvious signs of extreme illness nearing death, including an inability to walk and talk, they contended.

In a 6-1 vote on Wednesday, the Wisconsin justices sided with state attorneys, saying in the decision that the extreme condition of the sick child should have indicated to the Neumanns that she was nearing death.

"The juries could reasonably find that by failing to call for medical assistance when Kara was seriously ill and in a coma-like condition for 12 to 14 hours, the parents were creating an unreasonable and substantial risk of Kara's death, were subjectively aware of that risk, and caused her death," Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote for the majority, as reported by The Associated Press.

Additionally, according to Reuters, the justices ruled that the state statutes regarding legal protection for faith-healing parents "provide sufficient notice that the parents' conduct could have criminal consequences if their daughter died."

The Neumanns were initially convicted of second degree reckless homicide in 2009 by two separate juries.

Although the couple could have received maximum prison sentences of 25 years each for their conviction, they instead received a sentence of 30 days in jail each year for the next six years and a 10-year probation, as they have two surviving children at home.

When the Neumanns sought to appeal their initial conviction, their case skipped the 3rd District of Appeals and went straight to the Supreme Court.

The one justice who did not vote to uphold the earlier court ruling, David Prosser, argued in a statement reported by AP that the state statute regarding criminal immunity for faith-healing parents is unclear as to what extent parents are protected from criminal charges.

According to a previous article by the Wassau Daily Herald, studies on faith-healing deaths conducted by Shawn Francis Peters, a University of Wisconsin lecturer, show that roughly one dozen children die in the U.S. per year due to parents using faith-healing practices instead of seeking medical help.

Currently, 31 states offer some form of protection from child abuse charges for parents who wish to practice faith-healing due to their religious convictions.

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