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Oregon City faith healers sentenced to 75 months in prison

Dale and Shannon Hickman were found guilty of second-degree manslaughter of their premature son

Followers of Christ church members overflowing in the Oregon City courtroom Monday cried as Clackamas County Circuit Judge Robert D. Herndon sentenced Dale and Shannon Hickman to 75 months in prison.

The Hickmans were convicted Sept. 29 of second-degree manslaughter after they failed to seek medical care for their premature son, who died less than nine hours after his birth on Sept. 27, 2009.

'This was a death that simply did not have to occur,' Herndon said during Monday morning's sentencing. 'That's a modest penalty for causing the death of a vulnerable person.'

Herndon considered the couple's tearful pleas about separation from their surviving children, 7 and four months old, as they were immediately taken into custody.

Calling the attending unlicensed midwife 'the most dangerous person in Clackamas County,' Herndon mentioned two grandchildren from his oldest daughter, who 'had the good sense' to hire professionals and get prenatal care.

Demands for change

Arguments in the trial that began in mid-September contrasted the church's belief rejecting doctors and medical care with with the prosecution claim that one phone call to a professional could have prevented the child's death.

Under the watch of unlicensed midwives who prayed and anointed the baby with oil when he turned gray in the last hour of his life, the infant born two months premature died within hours.

Defense attorneys Mark Cogan and John Neidig argued that the baby's condition came on suddenly and that their clients were singled out by association with the church, whose members have been convicted recently under similar circumstances.

'They conducted themselves in a way that is fitting with their community and their religious beliefs,' Cogan said.

Neidig added that Shannon Hickman had little ability to call for help after giving birth, and had little awareness of what was happening to her newborn child.

Clackamas County prosecutors John Wentworth and Mike Regan emphasized that the Hickmans had plenty of time to call for medical help, knowing that their son was born premature.

Regan argued that dealing with the church on a case-by-case basis after child's death was a lamentable way to deal with an ongoing problem. He said the religious group was sacrificing lives of children year after year, and that the jury should send a message that the group's ignorance was unacceptable.

'Children being born in that community are dying unnecessarily of treatable illness,' Regan said. 'The law of civil society demands that they change.'

Other faith-healing cases

Although the Hickmans are members of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, which is known for its refusal to seek medical care, the religious aspect was not the focus of the trial.

To prevent future faith-healing cases from using accused parents' beliefs as evidence, the Legislature ended legal protections for religious practices that hurt children.

Unlike the child-neglect sentencing in June for Timothy and Rebecca Wyland's failure to seek care of a eye cyst for their infant daughter, David Hickman did not survive past his birth.

Clackamas County Circuit Judge Jeffrey S. Jones on June 24 sentenced the Wylands to 90 days in jail for first-degree criminal mistreatment. They failed to provide medical care for their infant daughter who was nearly blinded by an abnormal growth of blood vessels surrounding her left eye.

Eighteen-month-old Alayna recovered after court-ordered medical care.

Other faith-healing cases include Jeffrey and Marci Beagley, an Oregon City couple convicted in the faith-healing death of their 16-year-old son in 2008. The Beagleys completed a 16-month prison term in the spring.