A woman accused of killing her daughter by actively encouraging her husband to withhold life-saving medicine has joined him, along with two others from a fringe Toowoomba religious group, in being ordered to stand trial for murder.
A total of 14 people have been charged over the death of type-1 diabetic Elizabeth Struhs, whom police believe died on January 7 after being denied insulin for several days while the group instead prayed and sang for divine medical intervention.
Her mother, Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs, “thought there was a possibility that God could take things to the extreme – meaning death”, said Magistrate Kay Philipson, borrowing from Struhs’s own statement.
“She goes into detail about being told by her husband [Jason Richard Struhs] that if Elizabeth did not get her insulin, she would die.
“She goes into detail about Mr Struhs becoming a believer and, in her words, receiving the Holy Spirit; about them speaking about healing and encouraging each other; [about] speaking to him about Elizabeth not needing the medication; and her supporting his decision not to continue Elizabeth’s insulin injections.”
Jason Struhs last week became the first member of the Christian group ordered to face a murder trial. In consecutive hearings at the Toowoomba Magistrates Court on Wednesday, Philipson followed suit with Elizabeth’s mother Kerrie and two other group members, Andrea Louise Stevens and Loretta Mary Stevens.
In the Andrea Stevens matter, the court heard Elizabeth had nearly died on a previous occasion from “similar symptoms”.
The group has been referred to as “the Saints” but Kerrie Struhs’s statement, as paraphrased by Philipson, called it “the Church”.
The congregation, which contains three family groups including children, is allegedly led by Loretta Stevens’ husband, Brendan Stevens. He is also charged with Elizabeth’s murder.
Struhs appeared by videolink wearing a prison-issued blue sweater and sat expressionless with her hands resting on a table as Philipson ordered her to trial.
“... A person unlawfully kills another if the death is caused by an act done … with reckless indifference to human life,” Philipson said.
“It is contended that the defendant actively encouraged and supported the cessation of insulin to Elizabeth, [and] she failed to provide such to Elizabeth, or ensure she was provided with it, clearly knowing that the probable outcome of Elizabeth not receiving the insulin was Elizabeth’s death.”
The court previously heard expert statements suggesting eight-year-old Elizabeth would have spent her final days suffering from “insatiable” thirst, weakness, stomach pains and impaired consciousness.
It was alleged that police and paramedics were not called until late in the afternoon the day after Elizabeth’s death.
Like other members who have appeared in the court, Struhs and the two Stevens women again rejected advice to have legal representation. None of them addressed the court on Wednesday other than to answer yes or no questions from Philipson about the proceedings.
Kerrie and Jason Struhs will face an additional charge in their trials of failing to provide the necessaries of life. Neither was charged with torture after the respective magistrates hearing their cases did not believe there was sufficient evidence that they intentionally inflicted pain and suffering on their daughter.
The court heard Andrea Stevens stayed overnight at the Rangeville, Toowoomba home on January 5 to watch Elizabeth while the parents slept, and knew Elizabeth was becoming gravely ill. However, she “believed in, and supported, the reliance held by the members of the religious group in the healing power of God rather than medical intervention”, it was alleged.
Philipson, in statements made separately to both Andrea and Loretta Stevens, said she was satisfied the evidence “taken at its highest” supported allegations they aided Elizabeth’s parents in “withholding insulin from their child and failing to provide her with that life-saving medication with reckless indifference to the consequences thereof”.
Asked if she wanted to address the court, Andrea Stevens responded, brightly and nonchalantly: “No.”
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