Another Followers of Christ couple indicted in death of a child

The Oregonian/July 30, 2010

Oregon City - An Oregon City couple will face charges of second-degree manslaughter in the faith-healing death of their newborn son, the third such fatality involving the Followers of Christ church in the past two years.

Dale R. Hickman and Shannon M. Hickman, both 25, were booked about 1 a.m. Friday at the Clackamas County Jail. Dale Hickman's father, Phillip Hickman, posted 10 percent of their $500,000 bail, and they were released about two hours later. They will be formally charged August 30.

Their infant son was born in September, 2009, about six weeks premature. He weighed 3 pounds, 5 ounces and lived nine hours.

No one with medical training attended the birth, and no one called a doctor or ambulance. An autopsy determined the infant died of staph pneumonia and complications from a premature birth, including underdeveloped lungs.

The medical examiner noted the presence of a bacterial infection, which could have caused the amniotic sac to rupture, or the water to break as the event is commonly called.

Attempts to reach the Hickmans were unsuccessful. No one answered the door of their Oregon City residence. A woman who answered at the home of Shannon Hickman's parents declined to comment.

Dale Hickman's attorney asked the public to withhold judgment.

"Mr. and Mrs. Hickman are presumed innocent," defense attorney Mark Cogan said. "The government has the burden of proving the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. We have not seen the evidence yet."

Greg Horner, Clackamas County chief deputy district attorney declined to comment.

The Hickman indictments comes amid a high-profile case involving two other church members. Timothy and Rebecca Wyland pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of first degree criminal mistreatment for failing to provide medical care to their 7-month-old daughter, Alayna.

The Department of Human Services took temporary custody of Alayna after receiving a tip that a large untreated mass had grown over the child's left eye and was threatening her vision. She is now improving under court-approved medical treatment.

Members of the Followers of Christ church rely on faith-healing rituals - anointing with oil, prayer and the laying on of hands - rather than secular medicine. Church members have testified that they would not go to a doctor or hospital even if it meant the difference between life and death, preferring to put their faith solely in God's power to heal.

The Hickman and Wyland indictments underscore a pledge by Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote to aggressively prosecute church members who fail to provide necessary medical care to their children, as required under Oregon law.

Foote reached out to church members earlier this year, urging them to seek common ground that would assure that their children receive adequate medical care.

The state medical examiner's office reported after a series of similar incidents in the 1990s that more than 20 children of church members had died in recent decades from preventable or curable illnesses. In part because of laws granting parents legal immunity for certain crimes in such cases, none of the Followers of Christ deaths resulted in prosecution.

In 1999, the Legislature passed a law that eliminated religious protections in cases of second-degree manslaughter and first- and second-degree criminal mistreatment. The law left religious immunity in place for some other crimes but gave prosecutors more options for charging parents in such cases.

Clackamas County prosecutors have since had mixed results.

In July 2009, Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington were found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, who died of untreated bacterial bronchial pneumonia and an infection. Brent Worthington was found guilty of criminal mistreatment and was sentenced to 60 days in jail. Raylene Worthington was acquitted on all charges.

In February, a jury convicted Jeff and Marci Beagley of criminally negligent homicide in the death of their 16-year-old son, Neil. The boy died of complications from an undiagnosed congenital urinary blockage.

The Beagleys - who are Raylene Worthington's parents - were sentenced to16 months in prison.

The Worthingtons and Beagleys said they knew their children were ailing but seemed to be getting better just before they died. In both cases, no one called a doctor or 9-1-1 as the children approached death or stopped breathing.

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