Prosecutors allow jury to consider lesser charge in church death

Associated Press/July 9, 2004

Milwaukee -- Prosecutors will allow the jury to consider a lesser child-abuse charge against a minister on trial for the death of an autistic 8-year-old during a prayer service his church held for him.

Ray Anthony Hemphill, 45, still faces the original felony charge of child abuse-recklessly causing great bodily harm for Terrance Cottrell Jr.'s death in a ritual in Hemphill's Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith.

The lesser charge, a felony count of child abuse-recklessly causing bodily harm, can be considered by the jury if they believe the physical prayer service harmed the boy, but not enough to be of "great" injury.

The boy died during the Aug. 22 service of suffocation, the medical examiner ruled.

But Hemphill's attorney Thomas Harris tried to prove via expert testimony that the boy actually died of an overdose of medication.

If the jury believes the drugs killed Terrance, they could still consider whether other injuries to the boy's body - mainly bruising and internal bleeding in his neck - were Hemphill's fault.

The request to have the jury consider the lesser charge came during Thursday's proceedings, which brought testimony to an end. Closing arguments were scheduled for Friday.

David Hemphill, Ray's brother and the founder of the church, explained Thursday why he ordained Ray as an evangelist without formal training.

"If a person believes that the King James Version of the Bible is the word of God, you just read it and you just believe it," said David Hemphill, who is a bishop in and pastor of the church. "It's nothing that you have to go to school for. If you believe it, that's it."

David Hemphill said Ray has "a gift" for healing through casting out demons - which, he said, is a Biblical imperative for Christians - and that Terrance's mother had authorized the three weeks of prayer services preceding Aug. 22.

Under cross-examination from Assistant District Attorney Mark S. Williams, David Hemphill said Terrance's death was a product of God's will, regardless of the pressure Ray Hemphill might have used.

"If I lay down on somebody and they pass away, God took him, I didn't," David Hemphill said.

Ray Hemphill declined to take the stand.

The bulk of Thursday's testimony came from toxicology experts weighing in on whether the levels of the antihistamine brompheneramine, the cough-reliever dextromethorphan and the anti-psychotic ziprasidone found in Terrance's blood during an autopsy could have killed him.

The first two drugs are found in many cough and cold remedies. The third had been prescribed to Terrance for several months.

John P. Bederka Jr., a toxicologist retained by Harris, said the amounts of each in his blood were above the toxic threshold and were the likely cause of the boy's death.

Bederka said he saw that as the main cause partly because he didn't believe statements to police that Ray Hemphill laid across Terrance's chest for an hour or more.

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