Jury Convicts Mother Who Prayed for Daughter Instead of Treating Her Fatal Diabetes
WAUSAU, Wis. – A jury Friday found a central Wisconsin mother guilty of killing her 11-year-old daughter by praying for her to heal instead of rushing her to the doctor.
A Marathon County jury deliberated about four hours before convicting Leilani Neumann, 41, of rural Weston, of second-degree reckless homicide. No sentencing date was set. Neumann remains free on bond.
"We have another shot on appeal," defense lawyer Gene Linehan said. "Obviously, there will be an appeal."
Neumann left the courtroom clutching her husband as her three other children, looking stunned, followed. She declined comment.
Neumann's daughter, Madeline, died of untreated diabetes March 23, 2008, surrounded by people praying for her. When she suddenly stopped breathing, her parents' business and Bible study partners finally called 911.
Prosecutors contend a reasonable parent would have known something was gravely wrong with Madeline and her mother recklessly killed her by ignoring obvious symptoms of how gravely ill she was. During closing arguments, Marathon County District Attorney Jill Falstad described Neumann as a religious zealot who let her daughter, known by the nickname Kara, die as a test of faith.
"Religious extremism can be dangerous," Marathon County District Attorney Jill Falstad said. "In this case, it was fatal. Basic medical care would have saved Kara's life — fluids and insulin. There was plenty of time to save Kara's life."
Linehan countered, saying Neumann didn't realize her daughter was so ill and did all she could do to help, in line with the family's belief in faith-healing.
He said Neumann was a devout Christian who prays about everything and took good care of her four children.
"Religious extremism is a Muslim terrorist," Linehan said. "They are saying these parents were so far off the scale that they murdered their child. The woman did everything she could to help her. That is the injustice in this case."
Neumann's stepfather, Brian Gordon of San Diego, said he was disappointed by the verdict and the jury was mistaken. He said his stepdaughter did nothing wrong in trusting in God to heal her daughter.
"We should have that right in this country," he said.
There will be a vigorous appeal and an investigation of possible prosecutorial misconduct, the stepfather said. "I don't care how far we have to carry this. There will be vindication and exoneration."
Gordon also said he was angered by Falstad's description of his family as religious extremists.
"We definitely are not terrorists," he said. "We are Bible-believing, God-believing, Holy Ghost-filled people who want to do right and be right."
Falstad declined to comment after the verdict because Madeline's father, Dale Neumann, faces the same charge and is scheduled to stand trial in July.
Jurors also declined to talk with reporters.
Neumann showed no reaction when the verdict was read. Before the jury took the case, she and her husband clutched each other and silently prayed with another man. Then she went to each of her other children sitting on a front-row courtroom bench and kissed them on the cheek.
She faces up to 25 years in prison.