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Prison for air cult disciples

Courier-Mail, November 27, 1999
By Judy Sands

A MAN who delayed seeking medical attention for a woman who died after undergoing a Breatharian cleansing process was jailed for six years yesterday.

Supreme Court Justice Margaret Wilson labelled the actions of Jim Vadim Pesnak, 61, as "recklessness of a high order" and made no recommendation for early parole.

Pesnak's wife Eugenia, 63, was jailed for two years for her role in encouraging her husband in his actions.

A Supreme Court jury in Brisbane last week took only three hours to find the couple guilty of the manslaughter of Lani Marsha Rosalind Morris. The couple had been supervising Morris, 53, through a fasting process as part of their belief in Breatharianism.

Followers of the cult believe an energy source called "Prana" can be gained through fasting and living on air alone.

Justice Wilson said it must be remembered that Morris travelled from Melbourne to attend the fasting process in June last year, of her own free will.

As part of the process, followers do not eat or drink for the first six days and then spend the next 14 days drinking only limited amounts of orange juice.

However, after the initial week, Morris had stopped speaking and had suffered a fall.

Jim Pesnak told the police that during the next three days Morris had begun urinating in her bed and had appeared to lose the movement in her right side.

He said she also had begun vomiting and he had noticed "black, sticky flakes" coming out of her mouth.

Mr Pesnak told police that he became worried on the 11th day of the process when he could see she was having difficulties breathing and the black substance was filling her mouth.

He had stuck a tube down Morris's throat and tried to artificially respirate her.

He called an ambulance that afternoon and Morris was eventually taken to the Mater Hospital's intensive care unit where she was found to be suffering a major stroke, severe dehydration, renal failure and pneumonia.

She died seven days later.

Justice Wilson said it was important "that other members of the community be deterred from such dangerous, cruel and inhumane conduct, albeit in the pursuit of spiritual beliefs".

The sentences were the maximum asked for by the Crown, while defence barrister Kelly McGroarty had submitted Pesnak should spend only four months in jail and his wife should receive a wholly suspended sentence.

Justice Wilson said she agreed with prosecutor Charlie Clark's description of Pesnak's behaviour as "quite frightening".

Pesnak had told police he had not believed Morris was in any physical danger and thought she was suffering an "ego battle".

"This is a spiritual procedure not a medical procedure," he had said. "When the question comes up 'should I call a doctor?' the answer is 'no, trust in God'.

"If I had called in the ambulance they would have stopped the cleansing." The court was told Pesnak also had called a doctor who had been a formeY((I(e(YY(Ussed the woman's condition but agreed that it was a "spiritual struggle" rather than a physical condition.

The court also was told Morris had been strong-willed about becoming a Breatharian although she was not usually so adamant.

Mr McGroarty said both Jim Pesnak and his wife had been brought up in former Iron Curtain countries and had suffered under previous military German and Russian regimes.

Mr McGroarty said his clients had lived in work camps for most of their lives as children and after emigrating to Australia had both led "impeccable lives".


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