Conviction upheld of man who suffocated boy during 'exorcism'

Pioneer Press (Twin Cities, MN)/August 16, 2006
By Scott Bauer

Madison -- A self-described minister had his conviction upheld by an appeals court Tuesday for abusing an 8-year-old autistic boy who died in what prosecutors called an exorcism at a storefront church.

Prosecutors said Ray Hemphill, 48, laid on Terrance Cottrell Jr.'s chest while trying to release "demons" from him before the boy died Aug. 22, 2003. Hemphill was found guilty in 2004 of a felony charge of physical abuse of a child by recklessly causing great bodily harm.

The youngster died at the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith in Milwaukee of what the medical examiner ruled was suffocation.

Hemphill's attorney argued at trial that his client was trying to help the boy, contending that the anti-psychotic medicine ziprasidone in Cottrell's body was the primary cause of his death.

Hemphill appealed the conviction, saying the jury was not given proper instructions before they debated his guilt. But the 1st District Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected his argument, saying the jury was properly instructed.

Hemphill's attorney, Tim Provis, said the ruling was wrong and he intends to ask the state Supreme Court to review it.

Hemphill argued the jury should have been told that if his actions were determined to be "an honest error," he could have been found not guilty.

But the judge refused to tell the jury that, saying the crime he was charged with did not require there to be a criminal intent in order for him to be found guilty.

The appeals court agreed.

"It was his conduct, not his intent, which brought the charge," the court said. His conduct created an unreasonable risk of harm to the boy and demonstrated a conscious disregard of his safety and was sufficient to find him guilty, the court said.

Hemphill said he did not know what he was doing posed a risk to the boy. He argued that he thought the boy had not been medicated for his autism prior to the day he died, when evidence showed he may actually have been given a double dose of the medicine by his mother prior to the prayer session.

Hemphill's attorney said the appeal's court ruling was "ridiculous."

"It's just plain wrong," Provis said.

A spokesman for the state attorney general's office, which prosecuted the case, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Hemphill remains in prison, serving a sentence of two years and five months for the crime.

According to a criminal complaint, Hemphill had known Cottrell and his mother, Pat Cooper, for three to four months before the boy died, and the mother and son were members of Hemphill's church.

Cottrell's mother was at the prayer service where Hemphill sat on her son's chest.

Hemphill had received no formal training for the ministry but was ordained by his brother who was a pastor at the church, according to court records.

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