The unrepentant parents of a sick girl who died after they turned to prayer instead of getting medical help which could have saved her, were jailed for six months today.
Dale and Leilani Neumann from Wisconsin could have received up to 25 years in prison for second-degree homicide in the March 2008 death of 11-year-old Madeline, who died of an undiagnosed but treatable form of diabetes.
Instead Judge Vincent Howard jailed them for a month each year for the next six years after telling them they were “very good people, raising their family, who made a bad decision, a reckless decision”.
“God probably works through other people,” he told the parents, “some of them doctors.”
Prosecutors said the Neumanns recklessly killed their youngest of four children by ignoring obvious symptoms of severe illness as she became too weak to speak, eat, drink or walk.
They said the couple had a legal duty to take their daughter to a doctor but relied totally on prayer for healing. The girl, known as Kara, died on the floor of the family’s rural home as people surrounded her and prayed. A friend finally called the emergency services after she stopped breathing.
“We are here today because to some, you made Kara a martyr to your faith,” Judge Howard told the parents.
In evidence and videotaped interviews with police, the parents said they believed healing came from God and that they never expected their daughter to die as they prayed for her and summoned others to do the same.
During the sentencing hearing, Leilani Neumann, 41, told the judge her family is loving and forgiving and has wrongly been portrayed as religious zealots.
“I do not regret trusting truly in the Lord for my daughter’s health,” she said. “Did we know she had a fatal illness? No. Did we act to the best of our knowledge? Yes.”
Dale Neumann, 47, read from the Bible and told the judge that he loved his daughter.
“I am guilty of trusting my Lord’s wisdom completely. ... Guilty of asking for heavenly intervention. Guilty of following Jesus Christ when the whole world does not understand. Guilty of obeying my God,” he said.
The Neumanns held each other as Judge Howard sentenced them, a Bible on the table nearby and their three teenage children sitting behind them in the front row of the courtroom.
Prosecutors had asked for a three-year suspended prison sentence and 10 years probation. Defence lawyers wanted four years probation.
The judge ordered the couple to serve one month in jail each year for six years so the parents could “think about Kara and what God wants you to learn from this”. One parent would serve the term in March and the other in September. The judge delayed the jail sentences while the couple’s convictions are appealed.
As part of their probation, the parents must allow a public health nurse to examine their two underage children at least once every three months and must immediately take their children to a doctor for any serious injuries.
Assistant District Attorney LaMont Jacobson said justice was served by the sentences, but he was disappointed the parents never said they were sorry for what happened.
“They allowed Kara to die because they got themselves too caught up in the misguided belief that they were being tested by God,” he said.
Dale Neumann, who once studied to be a Pentecostal minister, told reporters the couple continues to trust in God.
“We live by faith,” he said after the sentencing. “We are completely content with what the Lord has allowed to come down, but he is not done yet.”