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Parents who withheld care are guilty of homicide, Wisconsin justices say

The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld by 6 to 1 the second-degree reckless homicide conviction of two parents whose daughter died, citing a  'legal duty to provide medical care for a child if necessary.' 

By Staff writer / July 3, 2013

Leilani and Dale Neumann leave a Marathon County Circuit Courtroom in Wausau, Wis., in 2008. On Wednesday the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the mother and father who prayed instead of seeking medical help as their 11-year-old daughter Madeline Kara Neumann died in front of them were properly convicted of homicide.

Rob Orcutt/Wausau Daily Herald/AP

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the homicide conviction of two parents whose 11-year-old daughter died while they relied on prayer and faith in God to treat her illness rather than conventional medicine.

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The state high court ruled 6 to 1 that the parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, were properly tried and convicted of second-degree reckless homicide for failing to provide emergency medical treatment to their daughter, Kara.

“A parent has a legal duty to provide medical care for a child if necessary,” the Wisconsin high court declared.

Wisconsin law provides an exemption for those who rely on spiritual means through prayer to treat a child’s illness. But the provision applies only to cases of alleged child abuse, not homicide, the majority justices said.

“No one reading the treatment-through-prayer provision should expect protection from criminal liability under any other statute,” Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote for the court.

“When a parent fails to provide medical care to his or her child, creates an unreasonable and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm, is aware of that risk, and causes the death of the child, the parent is guilty of second-degree reckless homicide,” Chief Justice Abrahamson said.

According to the court record, Kara, the youngest of the Neumanns’ four children, would have appeared healthy to a casual observer until roughly four days before her death. Her parents thought she might have the flu.

In response to her worsening condition, they prayed and enlisted the prayers of others. The Neumanns, residents of Weston, Wis., are not members of a formal religious sect, but identify themselves as Pentecostals.

“They believe that there are spiritual root causes to sickness and that their prayer and strong religious beliefs will cure any health problems they encounter,” the court decision said.

At one point, Kara’s maternal grandmother advised taking the girl to a doctor. According to the court’s opinion, Kara’s mother replied, “No, she’ll be fine, God will heal her.”

Eventually, two calls were placed to 911, but not by the parents. The responding paramedics were unable to revive Kara and she was pronounced dead at the hospital. It was Easter Sunday 2008.

Mr. Neumann testified at his trial that throughout the ordeal death was not a concern. He told the jury that even after his daughter was pronounced dead, he believed Jesus would raise her from the dead, as he had done with Lazarus.

Doctors at the hospital said Kara died of diabetes. Another doctor testified that, if treated, Kara’s condition had a 99.8 percent survival rate.

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