JURY selection continues this week in the trial of David and Ginger Twitchell, a Christian Science couple facing manslaughter charges here related to the death of their 2-1/2 year-old son in 1986. Suffolk County special prosecutor John Kiernan has charged the Twitchells with failing to provide ``proper care'' to their child, whom they treated with Christian Science prayer during a five-day illness. Mr. Kiernan alleges the child could have been successfully treated by conventional medicine.
Defense lawyers Rikki Klieman and Stephen Lyons contend, however, that the child died of a rare birth defect of the bowel that conventional medicine cannot easily diagnose or treat. The parents have said the child, contrary to press reports, had no apparent fever; showed marked signs of improvement during the illness, including on the day he died; and had no symptoms of life-threatening illness.
The defense also contends the parents acted in accordance with a 1971 Massachusetts statute that recognizes spiritual treatment of children in lieu of conventional medicine in accordance with the tenets of a recognized church. The state legislature is currently considering a challenge to that law.
Five jurors were impaneled Friday out of several dozen questioned by Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Sandra Hamlin.
The examination of jurors was delayed for a day and a half last week after the Boston Globe appealed Judge Hamlin's closure of the juror examination process to the press and public.
Justice Neil Lynch of the state Supreme Judicial Court ordered that the proceedings be opened but said that any juror who felt he or she would be ``embarrassed'' or ``damaged'' by answering publicly could do so in private.
During the proceedings, the judge asks each prospective juror a list of questions developed after consultation with the prosecution and defense. Among the questions are whether jurors have any religious affiliation; whether they know anything about Christian Science or have ever known a Christian Scientist; whether they have an opinion about healing through prayer; and whether they have ever relied on prayer alone for healing a physical ailment.
If the judge determines that the juror can be fair and impartial, she declares the juror ``indifferent,'' or eligible to sit on the jury.
Almost all those questioned said they did not know any Christian Scientists and were unfamiliar with the religion's teachings.
Each side may reject 32 potential jurors without cause, for a total of 64 challenges. The sides rejected 22 jurors on Friday.
The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.