Girl Dies in Religious Ritual, Family Sues Church

CBS News 8, Las Vegas/June 6, 2011

Las Vegas - The mother of a 16-year-old claims her daughter was poisoned during a religious ritual. The church denies the fasting ritual caused the girl's death. Her parents claim she was forced by the church to take bee pollen and died of an asthma attack four hours later.

The church claims she was never given bee pollen, only a master cleanse mix meant to help her religious fast. The Church of Divine Appointment on Lake Mead Blvd. and Revere St. is accused of negligence in the death of the teenager during a religious ritual.

In a YouTube video, the pastor of the church, Dr. Glories Powell speaks about fasting, "The only way you can really fast is to stop eating. Cover your mouth. Stop the flow. Shut the gates, close the door. And push the flesh. You cannot fast by doing nothing other than abstaining from food."

The lawsuit claims teenager Brianna Benbo died July 6, 2010 after church leaders "instructed, induced and insisted" she take bee pollen to begin a religious fast.

"The church doesn't advocate, doesn't prescribe, doesn't subscribe any ritualistic brews, any medications, none of this," said Powell. She claims parishioners were only using "master cleanse," a laxative mixture of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.

Metro and North Las Vegas police say a death investigation took place. But after the coroner ruled the cause of death as asthma, no further investigation happened. The District Attorney's office says it would have been up to Metro to bring criminal charges.

A police spokesman says the "reasonable person standard" is the deciding factor. That requires proof a religious leader knew certain chemicals or physical items could cause bodily harm.

It's the same standard used to try James Arthur Ray. The Arizona faith healer is charged with negligence in three deaths during a 2009 religious sweat lodge ceremony.

Pastor Powell further claims the teenager wasn't at the church the day in question because services were canceled. Attempts to reach the attorney of the teenager's family went unanswered.

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