Oregon Supreme Court rejects appeal from parents convicted in faith healing death

The Oregonian/October 8, 2015

By Steve Mayes

The Oregon Supreme Court upheld the conviction Thursday of an Oregon City couple that relied on faith healing to treat their prematurely born son who died because he did not receive prompt medical care.

The court rejected the appeal from Dale and Shannon Hickman, who argued that the Oregon Constitution's religious freedom provisions required the state to prove that they acted with the "knowledge" that their religious practices would result in their child's death.

A Clackamas County jury convicted the Hickmans of second-degree manslaughter in 2011. Each was sentenced to six years and three months in prison.

The Hickmans are members of Oregon City's Followers of Christ church, which has a history of children dying from treatable conditions because their parents relied on faith healing rather than taking them to doctors.

The Hickmans' son, David, was born at the home of Shannon Hickman's mother on Sept. 26, 2009. At birth, he weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces.

The Hickmans testified that David appeared healthy, then took a sudden dire turn. Dale Hickman responded by holding his newborn son, praying for him and anointing him with olive oil.

The parents said at trial that they never considered calling a doctor.

Prosecutors said the Hickmans should have been aware of the substantial and unjustifiable risk to the infant.

Doctors who testified for the prosecution said the Hickmans failed to take notice of several obvious warning signals: David was born two months prematurely; he was not able to adequately feed; he had labored breathing and he eventually turned blue and gray.

Medical experts said that had the Hickmans promptly sought competent medical assistance, there was a 99 percent chance that David Hickman would have survived.

The two are behind bars, Dale Hickman at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem and Shannon Hickman at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. The earliest release date for both is in January 2018.

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