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State Supreme Court upholds 'prayer death' convictions

by
Dale and Leilani Neumann
Dale and Leilani Neumann

MADISON, Wis. (WSAU) - The Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld the ruling against Dale and Leilani Neumann in the Weston "Prayer Death" case.

The justices ruled 6 to 1 today that the Neumanns were properly convicted of reckless homicide in the death of their daughter Madeline Kara Neumann in 2009. Madeline was dying of untreated diabetes, and the two decided to keep praying over her instead of taking her to a doctor.

The Neumanns belonged to a internet faith group that believes that doctors and organized medicine go against the teachings of God, and that visiting a doctor is akin to praying to a false idol. In the days leading up to the death of Madeleine, family members asked the Neumanns to take her to a hospital or help treat her. They refused, and even after Madeleine's death, Leilani insisted that God would raise her from the dead.

Attorneys for Neumanns had argued in from of the court that the state's faith healing exception to child abuse should have carried over to the reckless homicide statutes, and that the two did not have a reasonable sense of where the line would be crossed from one to the other. They argued that deprived them of due process under the law. They also objected that jury instructions in the case did not properly convey the statutes surrounding the faith healing statutes.

In an opinion filed by Justice Shirley Abrahamson, the justices state that the statutes for child abuse and reckless homicide are written in such a way that the Neumanns should have been able to determine the difference between the two and where their actions crossed the line.

"For the reasons set forth, we conclude that the second-degree reckless homicide statute and criminal child abuse statute provide sufficient notice that the parents' conduct could have criminal consequences if their daughter died. We further conclude that the jury instructions were not erroneous; that trial counsels' performance was not ineffective assistance of counsel; that the controversy was fully tried; and that the jury in the father's case was not objectively biased."

The Prosser dissent says the legislature should clarify Wisconsin’s prayer defense.

The only further appeal would be the U.S. Supreme Court, and there’s no guarantee the Court would hear the case. The attorney who handled the Neumann’s appeal says they are disappointed and are considering their options. A spokesperson from the state justice department says they are declining to comment in the case.

If an appeal does not take place, the Neumanns will serve ten years on probation, and will have to serve six months in jail, one month a year, over those ten years.

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