OREGON CITY, Ore. — A couple who prayed and rubbed olive oil on their sick infant rather than seek medical care for the dying boy were convicted Thursday of manslaughter, becoming the latest members of an Oregon faith-healing church to be blamed in their child’s death.
Dale and Shannon Hickman, both 26, are members of the Followers of Christ Church, which has a history of rejecting medical care for congregants’ children and relying instead on techniques such as prayer and anointing the sick with oils.
Five other church members have been convicted in Clackamas County for crimes related to the rejection of medical care for their children, said Greg Horner, chief deputy district attorney.
The Hickmans’ conviction on second-degree manslaughter charges typically requires a mandatory minimum sentence of six years in prison. But because of a religious exemption in state law at time of the crime, the couple likely will face no more than 18 months in prison and a $250,000 fine, The Oregonian reported.
Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Robert Herndon allowed the couple to remain free until they are sentenced Oct. 31.
Prosecutors claimed Shannon Hickman never sought prenatal care when she was pregnant with David, who was born two months early at his grandmother’s home and died less than nine hours later when he had trouble breathing. He was born with a bacterial infection and underdeveloped lungs.
Medical experts for the prosecution testified that the baby had a 99 percent chance of survival if his parents had sought medical care. But prosecutors claimed the couple never considered taking the baby to the hospital.
Defense attorney Mark Cogan said his clients were the victims of religious persecution. He argued that the baby died quickly and said there was no evidence that medical care would have saved him.
Dale Hickman testified that he didn’t call 911 once he realized his infant son was ailing “because I was praying.”
Shannon Hickman said that as a woman in the church, she must defer to her husband.
“That’s not my decision anyway,” she testified. “I think it’s God’s will whatever happens.”
In response to deaths among Followers of Christ members, state lawmakers this year removed the religious defenses from criminal laws. Those exemptions had made it tougher to convict parents who shun a child’s medical care for religious reasons than those who shun it for other reasons like neglect.
The change would allow prosecutors to seek stiffer manslaughter or murder charges in faith-healing cases.
Two other parents from the Followers of Christ church were convicted earlier this year for failing to seek medical care for their infant daughter, who had a growth that could have left her blind in one eye. They were sentenced to 90 days in jail.