April 28, 2008 — -- The parents of an 11-year-old Wisconsin girl who prayed instead of seeking medical help for the diabetic child are facing homicide charges in connection with her death.
Dale and Leilani Neumann were charged with second-degree reckless homicide, Marathon County District Attorney Jill Falstad announced at a press conference today. If convicted, the couple could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.
"It is very surprising, shocking that she wasn't allowed medical intervention," Falstad said.
Madeline Kara Neumann, who went by the name Kara, died in March at a hospital in Everest, Wis. Her parents called 911 after she stopped breathing on Easter Sunday.
A message left by ABC News with Gene Linehan, the Neumanns' attorney, was not immediately returned. A spokesman for the Everest Police Department said that the district attorney made an arrangement with Linehan for the couple to make their first appearance in court Wednesday.
The Neumanns told authorities they did not call for help earlier because they believe in the power of prayer.
Dale Neumann, a former police officer, told The Associated Press at the time that he started to perform CPR on his daughter "as soon as the breath of life left."
But the Marathon County medical examiner said the condition, which apparently was never diagnosed, was treatable and the girl's death could have been prevented.
Kara was the youngest child of the Neumanns, who had ties to the Unleavened Bread Ministries, a little-known sect with an online presence that shuns modern medicine in favor of prayer.
Kara died of "diabetic ketoacidosis," according to the autopsy report. Efforts were made to revive the little girl, whose diabetes had never been diagnosed, when she stopped breathing at the house, officials said.
She was transported to Saint Clare's Hospital in Weston, where she was pronounced dead.
Ironically, county officials were on the way to the Neumanns' home the same day to perform a welfare check on the girl after the Marathon County Sheriff's Office got a call from Kara's aunt Ariel Gomez of California expressing concern about Kara.
Before officials reached the home, a 911 call came from the Neumann house about a medical emergency.
Gomez called the sheriff's office three times that day about her niece's medical condition, according to the sheriff's office.
"My sister-in-law is, her daughter's severely, severely sick and she believes her daughter is in a coma," Gomez is heard telling the dispatcher in one of the 911 calls released by the sheriff's office. "And, she's very religious, so she's refusing to take [Kara] to the hospital, so I was hoping maybe somebody could go over there."
Gomez asked authorities to send an ambulance and warns the dispatcher that Leilani Neumann will fight attempts to intervene. "We've been trying to get her to take [Kara] to the hospital for a week, a few days now," Gomez told the dispatcher in one of the calls.
Gomez reportedly learned about the girl's condition from the child's grandmother, who told investigators the Kara's health deteriorated over several days, according to search warrant documents.
Though the Neumanns are not official members of the Unleavened Bread Ministries, a statement posted on the organization's Web site by the founder, David Eells, after the death, said the Neumanns "contacted one of our elders to ask that I call them to pray for their daughter. That elder got in touch with me Saturday evening and I called the Neumanns."
Eells also wrote that the Neumanns have posted testimonials on their Web site but are not "'under' our ministry."
Eells says his church does not believe in medical intervention.
"We are not commanded in scripture to send people to the doctor but to meet their needs through prayer and faith. As anyone here in the ministry will tell you, we are not against doctors for those who have their faith there and never condemn or restrict them in any way," Eells writes. "But we know that the best one to trust in for healing is Jesus Christ. The foundation for receiving this benefit from Him is repentance and faith in His promises."
Capt. Scott Sleeter, a spokesman for the Everest Metro Police Department, said the Neumanns were initially cooperative with investigators. But now the couple, who have three other teenage children, are "of the opinion that they've talked to us and there's nothing else they want to say," he said.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the girl's parents confirmed that they believe healing comes from God, but said that they did not want their child to die, that they are not zealots and that they do not have anything against doctors.
But authorities believe the girl, who was enrolled in a public school until last spring and this fall had been home-schooled, was likely ill for several days, perhaps longer, before her death.
In the AP interview, Leilani Neumann said that she is not worried about the police investigation because her family's lives are "in God's hands" and that family members know they did the best thing for Kara that they knew how to do.
A recent poem and writings by Leilani Neumann are posted at AmericasLastDays.com, the Web site of Unleavened Bread Ministries, which features the message, "These are America's Last Days."
The site describes the faith as nondenominational and founded by Eells, who spreads his message, teachings and interpretations of the Bible online and in books.
In one chapter of his book "Sovereign God for Us and Through Us," Eells writes about the need to rely on God to face corporal sickness.
"We cannot get anyone out from under a curse except through the Gospel," Eells writes. "Sometimes God is merciful, but we cannot guarantee God's deliverance to those who do not walk under the blood."
The Unleavened Bread Ministries is not the only church to attract the attention of law enforcement in connection with members refusing medical help.
Christian Science is one of the largest and perhaps best-known churches to favor divine spiritual healing over medicine. The church generally considers sickness as the result of fear or sin and looks down upon drugs and surgery. Still, the Christian Science church does not literally forbid church members from seeking medical attention.
Under the Jehovah's Witnesses interpretation of the Bible, church members are prohibited from taking blood from anyone, a doctrine that can cause them to refuse blood transfusions.
"Our perspective is pretty straightforward and clear — if the surgery involves the transfusion of blood or a major component of blood, such as plasma, then we look as it as contrary to what is stated in scripture," J.R. Brown, the spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses World Headquarters in New York, told ABC News in December. Beyond that restriction, Jehovah's Witnesses can make medical decisions on a personal basis.
In November, a 14-year-old Jehovah's Witness in Washington state diagnosed with leukemia refused a blood transfusion that could have saved his life. The decision was upheld by a judge. The teen died shortly after a judge denied an emergency request by the state to mandate the transfusion.