Kansas City, Kan. --Two church leaders accused of abusing and killing their adopted son made their initial appearance Thursday in Wyandotte County District Court.
Neil Edgar, 47, and his wife Christy, 46, of Kansas City, Kan., are charged with first-degree murder in the death of their 9-year-old adopted son, Brian Edgar. The couple is also charged with three counts of child abuse in connection with the treatment of their three other adopted children, ages 16, 12 and 9.
The Edgars are pastors of God's Creation Outreach Ministry in Kansas City, Kan. The church is affiliated with the Church of God in Christ.
Wyandotte County District Attorney Nick Tomasic said Tuesday that the four children were frequent victims of abuse that involved binding and gagging before bedtime. The three surviving siblings are in protective custody.
Tomasic said the practice of strict physical discipline "is a teaching of the church" -- but defense lawyer Bob Thomas said he is concerned about that accusation. "I have not seen a link between this incident and the church," he said.
On Wednesday, members of the Edgars' church also denied the accusation, saying their religion is not a cult and doesn't believe in "tough love."
Church leaders also used a prayer vigil and news conference Wednesday to urge the public and media to presume the Edgars innocent until proven guilty.
Between 40 and 50 people prayed during a vigil on the steps of the Wyandotte County courthouse that the Edgars would know that the church supports them.
The crowd included about two dozen members of the Edgars' church, which is Pentecostal in nature.
"Let them know," yelled Emanuel Newton, bishop of the church's jurisdiction in western Missouri, his voice boosted by an amplifier, "the good they have done, the thousands of people who have a life because of these two people."
"Thank you for them. Thank you for them. Thank you for them."
Clifford Jackson, the superintendent of the Church of God in Christ jurisdiction in western Missouri, said he has known the Edgars for about nine years and never saw signs that they abused children. He said the church does not preach the tough discipline of children.
"The Bible teaches us to bring up our children," Jackson said. "We are to teach children the principles and the standards of righteousness."
Brian, who was homeschooled, had been dead several hours before he was taken to a hospital early Monday. Police then took Neil Edgar into custody.
An autopsy conducted later Monday found the child had gagged on a piece of cloth that was stuffed in his mouth, and asphyxiated. The child's mouth had been taped shut, said Alan Hancock, the Wyandotte County coroner.
New and old marks on his chest and upper arms, as well as his wrists and ankles, indicated he had been bound, Hancock said.