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Judge Bars Witch Hunt Comment from Faith-healing Trial

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (RNS) A state medical examiner who concluded that two members of an Oregon City faith-healing church were victims of a prosecutorial “witch hunt” will not be allowed to offer that opinion when the defendants go to trial next month.
Clackamas County Presiding Judge Robert D. Herndon ruled in a pretrial hearing Tuesday (Aug. 2) that the comment made by Dr. Clifford Nelson is “his personal opinion and not relevant” and would have a “prejudicial effect” that outweighs its value as evidence.

Nelson performed an autopsy on David Hickman, who was born Sept. 26, 2009, at his maternal grandmother’s house and lived only nine hours. The baby’s parents, Dale and Shannon Hickman, are charged with second-degree manslaughter.

The defense pointed to comments Nelson made to an investigator that underscore his reason for the witch-hunt observation.

“This had become a criminal investigation before it really was known what the cause or manner of death was,” Nelson told the investigator. “It was proceeding much differently than another investigation would have taken place, had these people not been involved with a specific church group.”

The Hickmans are members of the Followers of Christ, which embraces faith healing and rejects medical care. Prosecutors claim the Hickmans failed to provide medical care for the baby because of their religious beliefs.

The Hickmans are the seventh and eighth church members to be tried for failure to seek medical care for their children.

Prosecutors said Nelson was misinformed, that his unsolicited opinion was ignored by investigators and viewed as an unprofessional personal comment.

(Steve Mayes writes for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore.)