Woman gets $300,000 in exorcism suit

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/March 23, 2002
By Darren Barbee

Fort Worth -- Six years after Laura Schubert sued members of a Colleyville church for trying to cast demons out of her, a Tarrant County jury's award of $300,000 filled her with joy.

Because of an earlier court ruling, jurors made their decision without hearing any religious aspects of the case, including Schubert's accounts of two exorcism attempts in 1996.

"This is a situation where religion went real bad," said Schubert's father, Tom Schubert, a former Assembly of God minister and missionary.

David Pruessner, an attorney for Pleasant Glade Assembly of God Church, said an appeal is likely. The pastor and some church members were found liable for abusing and falsely imprisoning Schubert, who was 17 at the time.

Pruessner argued that Schubert was suffering from a mental disorder and that church members didn't harm her.

"We are a Bible-believing, Pentecostal church. For this we make no apologies," pastor Lloyd McCutchen said in a statement. He will have to pay 50 percent of the amount awarded to Schubert. Former youth pastor Rod Linzay, his wife, Holly Linzay, and other church members were also found liable.

Schubert's lawsuit, filed six years ago, described a bizarre night in which church members anointed the sanctuary with holy oil, rapped on pews and propped a cross against the church doors to keep or drive demons out. But jurors heard none of that.

McCutchen, in his statement Friday, said the accusations are "outrageous and preposterous actions of which we are not guilty."

In 1998, the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth agreed with church attorneys that discussing the denomination's doctrine on demonic possession would violate the church's religious freedom.

Instead, jurors listened for three weeks as 49 witnesses sidestepped the religious aspects.

One juror, who did not give her name, said the judge informed the jury after the trial about the exorcism attempts. The juror said knowing those details would not have made a difference in the verdict. She did not elaborate.

The trial focused on two nights in June 1996 when Schubert said up to eight youth group members restrained her while adult church members watched.

"This was not a situation of prayer. They were trying to commit an exorcism on me," Schubert said.

Schubert, now 23, testified that the experience led her to mutilate herself and attempt suicide and finally to seek psychiatric treatment. Her lawsuit in 141st District Court in Fort Worth had sought more than $500,000.

In closing arguments Friday, church attorney Pruessner walked to a corner of the courtroom, sat on the floor and pulled his knees to his chest to demonstrate how Schubert had been seeking attention in June 1996. He said church members were only trying to help her.

"Laura Schubert breathes in attention the same way we breathe in air," Pruessner said.

Schubert also exhibited a pattern of overdramatizing events, he said. She endured the hardship of being uprooted while traveling with her missionary parents, Pruessner said. Partly because of that, Schubert developed a mental disorder, he said.

"Before she ever showed up at the church, she had a pre-existing personality disorder," Pruessner told the jury.

But Bill Wuester, Schubert's attorney, said the teen- ager was a model high school student who held a job, paid for her car and looked forward to her senior prom. That changed in June 1996, he told the jury.

"This girl had no problems. ... She had a great life," Wuester said.

He reminded jurors that church officials and youth group members testified that they had pinned her to the sanctuary floor.

Schubert and other witnesses testified that she had kicked and yelled to try to break free.

"I don't know how many times a woman has to say `no' before she is believed," Wuester told the jury. "How many times does she have to say, `Get away. Don't hold me. Let me up. No!' ?"

But Pruessner said no amount of money would improve Schubert's mental health.

The jury was being asked to "destroy the church and the people who have been sued," he said.

McCutchen, the pastor, said the verdict would not devastate the congregation.

"The church will go on," he said.

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