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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Couple Gets 6 Years After Botching a Faith Healing

OREGON CITY, Ore. (CN) - An Oregon couple will go to prison for at least six years because they chose prayer over medical treatment for their son, leading to his death just nine hours after being born.

Dale and Shannon Hickman also face three years probation.

Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Robert D. Herndon said the sentence was a "modest penalty" for what the Hickmans had done.

Shannon had gone into labor and gave birth at home to a child two months prematurely. Rather than seek medical attention for the baby, weighing less than 4 pounds, the Hickmans followed the dictates of their church and prayed for him and anointed him with olive oil.

At trial the couple said that their son was doing fine until he suddenly had trouble breathing and died. The jury convicted the couple last month of second-degree manslaughter.

The Hickmans are the fourth couple from the Followers of Christ to be prosecuted by the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office in the past two years for failing to seek medical attention for a child. Their sentence is the most severe to be handed down in Oregon in a faith-healing case.

In June, Timothy and Rebecca Wyland were convicted of criminal mistreatment after their daughter nearly lost her eye to a growth that could have been treated.

In February 2010, Jeff and Marci Beagley were convicted of criminally negligent homicide after their 16-year-old son died of complications stemming from a urinary tract blockage.

Brent and Raylene Worthington were acquitted of manslaughter in 2009 after the death of their daughter Ava from a blood infection.

In all four cases the parents charged relied at some point during their trial or during sentencing on an exemption in Oregon law for faith healing.

In response to the recent spate of faith-healing cases, the Oregon Legislature removed the faith-healing exemption from the books. Future cases will be tried under the state's mandatory sentencing laws. Herndon's sentence would have matched the mandatory minimum if the couple not pleaded for the faith-healing exemption.

Before sentencing, Dale Hickman to show his wife leniency so she could care for the couple's other children, a 7-year-old and a baby born after their son's death. "I ask that you find it in your heart for some mercy for my wife, above probably all else, for our children," Dale asked. "We are willing to do anything the court sees fit. We were very honest during trial.... I would just like to ask you those things to consider in our case."

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