WAUSAU, Wis. – A Weston woman, accused of praying instead of seeking medical attention for her dying daughter, suffered a medical emergency as her homicide trial got under way but appeared OK about 30 minutes later.
Her case is believed to be the first of its kind in Wisconsin involving faith healing in which someone died and another person was charged with a homicide.
Prosecutors had begun laying out their case against Leilani Neumann, 41, on Saturday morning. About 20 minutes in to their opening statement, as they described the girl's condition the day before she died, Neumann put her head in her arms on the table.
Moments later her attorneys expressed concern, asking for a recess so they could get her some air. She appeared visibly weak as her husband and others escorted her from the courtroom to a downstairs office.
Judge Vincent Howard ordered court security to call 911 and have Neumann medically evaluated.
While she was being examined by paramedics in the office, her defense attorney, Gene Linehan, told the judge Neumann was suffering a total physical and emotional breakdown.
"She claimed she has no feeling in her arms and legs," Linehan said, telling the judge Neumann could not participate in her defense in her current state.
The judge agreed to a recess, saying Neumann "needs a medical evaluation, not a judicial one, at least at this stage."
About 30 minutes later Neumann was brought back to the courtroom in a wheelchair. Her attorney indicated she was going to be OK.
The judge was expected to question her to see whether she'd be fit to continue.
Neumann is charged with second-degree reckless homicide in the Easter 2008 death of her 11-year-old daughter Madeline from undiagnosed diabetes. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.
Neumann has said her family believes in the Bible, which says healing comes from God, and she never expected her daughter to die.
According to the criminal complaint, Madeline's father considered the girl's illness "a test of faith" and Neumann never considered taking the girl to the doctor because she thought her daughter was under a "spiritual attack."
The family does not belong to an organized religion or faith, Neumann has said.
During opening statements, Assistant District Attorney LaMont Jacobson told the jury this case isn't about religious freedom or religious rights.
"This case is about Madeline Neumann's needless suffering and death," he said.
Jacobson recounted a chronology of events leading up to Madeline's death and got as far as the night before the girl — called Kara by her parents— died.
"Kara was left to lay on a couch overnight in a coma and nothing was done," he said.
It was about that point that Neumann started putting her head down. Jacobson continued, describing how Madeline was lying on the floor, neither talking nor eating.
By nightfall on the eve of her death, Madeline was "completely helpless" and Neumann commented to a friend, "she sensed the spirit or Angel of Death present at her home," Jacobson said.
Moments later the defense raised its concerns about Neumann's health.
An autopsy has determined that Madeline died from diabetes that left her with too little insulin in her body. The girl likely had some symptoms of the disease for several weeks and months, court records said.
The girl was finally taken to a hospital after other family members, including one in California, called 911 to seek emergency help but it was too late.
The parents told investigators Madeline had not been to a doctor since she was 3.
Linehan has said Neumann, a 41-year-old mother of three other children, is expected to testify in her own defense.
Her husband, Dale Neumann, is also charged with second-degree reckless homicide. His trial starts July 23.