Faith-Healing, Child-Killing Christian Couple Sentenced to Six Years in Prison

Dale and Shannon Hickman, members of the “we support faith healing” Followers of Christ Church, were found guilty of second-degree manslaughter last month after they let their newborn son die:

Prosecutors provided a timeline that showed there was as much as 45 minutes between the time the baby’s condition noticeably changed and his death, more than enough time to get emergency medical help. Instead, Dale Hickman held his son and anointed him with oil. He said he was with the baby for five or 10 minutes.

Shannon Hickman testified that she watched for maybe five minutes as the baby took his final labored breaths.

Jurors questioned whether the decline was so rapid.

“We really didn’t trust Shannon’s testimony very much,” said [jury foreman Collin] Fleming.

The amount of time was irrelevant, Fleming said. “They were never going to call for medical assistance.”

A pediatric expert who testified at the 10-day trial said the baby had a 99.9 percent chance of surviving if he had been taken to a hospital — the standard response for premature babies born at home. Even defense medical experts agreed hospitalization was the right choice.

Shannon Hickman said even if she had wanted to call 9-1-1 she was powerless to act because her church calls for wives to submit to their husband’s decisions — to do otherwise is a sin.

Yesterday, Judge Robert Herndon did the right thing and sentenced the couple to more than six years in prison. It’s the longest sentence ever issued to a couple from that church for killing one of their own children.

The Hickmans were sentenced to 75 months in prison, the mandatory minimum under Measure 11 sentencing guidelines. Herndon also gave them three years of probation.

“As the evidence unfolded and the witnesses testified, it became evident to me and certainly to the jury … that this death just simply did not need to occur,” said Herndon, referencing that the jury had come back with a verdict in a “stunningly” short time.

The Hickmans join Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, Carl Brent Worthington, and Jeffrey and Marci Beagley in the ever-growing list of child-killers from that church. The Wylands and Worthington — despicable people, all of them — were all in the courtroom yesterday to show their support for the Hickmans, as were many other members of the church. Looks like they didn’t have much of an influence.

Now if only this sentence can send a message to the other potential killers in that church… if your child needs medical help, stop talking to God and go call a doctor. God isn’t going to help you, but a doctor might be able to save your child’s life.

(Thanks to Wes for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve got to say, 75 months seems far too short a time for a crime of this measure.  Mimimum sentence?  I have to wonder why that is. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

    I think they should be required to undergo sterilization, too.

  • Anonymous

    If you look at the pictures in the article, you’ll see that she wore glasses again. What a hypocritical cow.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_26CJMYMS5SEGJBWTTFYS57KPBQ Brian

      They are to be pitied.  Not mocked.  Locked into a cult that preaches salvation and delivers death.  All cults reveal themselves to be death cults eventually.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

        I don’t pity child murderers.

        • Gwen

          Reportedly, their church cemetery is filled with the bodies of infants and children. They have had several recent well  publicized, preventable children deaths, and one family had two. I don’t give a damn if they do not accept the medical care for themselves, but the children have no choice.

      • Anonymous

        How about both pitied and mocked?

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

        They are victims of their upbringing.

        Religion is an addiction.

      • Anonymous

        I disagree.  Mockery may not prevent these people from committing the same mistake in the future, but it could dissuade others from joining them.  Mocking them because of hypocrisy is especially useful as it shows how little faith the people being targeted for mockery actually have in their own doctrines.  And sometimes, being mocked is just the kind of shock that can wake someone up and get them to reflect.

        Mockery is a powerful weapon, and frankly, I don’t know where this modern liberal idea that somehow we’re ‘too good’ to wield it came from.  The best way to avoid being mocked is to avoid doing foolish things that put you in the position of being used as an example to others.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

          I find the best people are those who can mock themselves.

    • Gwen

      I’ve always pointed that out too, and I’ll just BET they go to see the dentist when they have a toothache, instead of praying it away. Idiots.

      • Anonymous

        I think they actually admitted that in court

    • Anonymous

      Can we do without the sexist slurs? You can call this person all sorts of names without referring to her gender.

      • Anonymous

        Oh not this crap again. It would be sexist if it were somehow disparaging of all women. Or if I were even thinking about her gender when I wrote that. Neither is even remotely true.

        • JenL

          So you’d have called a guy a “cow”?  You may not have thought about it, but you used a slur that the vast majority of people direct only at women…  

          • Anonymous

            I may call a guy a “dick” maybe. Do women who call men that automatically hate all men? Some words are gender specific. That doesn’t mean that they are targeted at the whole gender instead of the person.

            It really depends on the word. Calling someone a “pussy” for example can easily be seen as misogynistic as it makes a generalization about women as weak.

            • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

              I may call a guy a “dick” maybe.

              Which is also sexist. Sexism can go in multiple directions, including sideways against your own sex. In this case, you’re perpetrating the idea that certain negative behaviors or attitudes are caused by or correlated to having a dick, which only men have, thus, denigrating men. Or, Calling someone a “[dick]” for example can easily be seen as mis[andrist] as it makes a generalization about [men] being [jerks].

              Do women who call men that automatically hate all men?

              No, anymore than you hate all men when you call men that.

  • http://www.suburbansweetheart.com/ Suburban Sweetheart

    This is horrible. Just horrible.  God forbid (sorry – universe forbid?!) they should ever have any more children.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=638289862 Kevin Jackson

    Sunsett – Because it wasn’t something with terrible costs to society like drugs. 

  • Anonymous

    Yesterday, Judge Robert Herndon did the right thing and sentenced the couple to more than six years in prison. It’s the longest sentence ever issued to a couple from that church for killing one of their own children.

    Six years is the MAXIMUM one of these child killers has ever been sentenced to?! That’s totally outrageous. Had the children been neglected by parents who simply didn’t give a shit, instead of dressing up the abuse in religion, I wonder if the judge would have made the punishment the absolute minimum he could under the law. Are the lives of babies born to religious fanatics somehow worth less than the lives of babies born to crack addicts?

    You know, if several children had died and all the families belonged to the same chess club, me thinks authorities would use their legal muscle to lean on that club, hard. More than enough evidence is available that shows that children whose families belong to this church are in serious danger. It’s time the authorities stop being reactive and start being seriously proactive. All families need to be assigned social workers and all children need to be checked on regularly to ensure they are healthy. This is what was done to the fundamentalist Mormons from Warren Jeffs compound, and it is what should happen here.

    • Jordanlund

      Until recently Oregon had a religious exception to the manslaughter laws. After morons in this church allowed tow other kids to die in the past few years that exceptionhas been rescinded which is why 6 years is now the longest sentence handed down.

  • sc0ttt

    What do you call faith healing without the healing?  Man-2.

  • Anonymous

    What gets me about this couple is that they ignored sane advice for the life of their child, yet are nutty religious enough to probably also be anti-abortion.  Don’t kill an unborn child but a living child you can let die.

    I agree with the others… 6 years was not long enough.  Maybe as that article stated, that some of these other members of this church will start taking their kids to get medical help when they need it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/scott.j.jordan Scott James Jordan

      Somehow, I doubt it.  I have a feeling they’ll just try to rationalise it away, by saying things like “Oh, God didn’t answer their prayers to save their son because he needed another angel in heaven.  All part of his mysterious and wonderful plan, you see.” |:(

      • http://www.facebook.com/billyup Jesse Jones

        Oohhhhhhhhh

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_26CJMYMS5SEGJBWTTFYS57KPBQ Brian

    As a former fundamentalist: I can tell you the sad fact is they are taught that it is their fault the child died.  They didn’t have enough faith.  Absolutely devastating to anyone’s psyche.  Pure cult mentality.

    • dauntless

      Well, if you want to get technical, it probably /is/ their fault their child died, but it has nothing to do with faith.

      • Nicole S

        Or it has everything to do with faith. Their ‘faith’ killed their child.

    • Steve

      The branch of fundamentalism that I once aligned myself with would say that it wasn’t “God’s will” that the child survive.
      No doubt the backlash from the public will be filed under “Christian persecution.”
      I think the best thing to do is to publicize this as much as possible.

  • Rich Wilson

    Again

    The Hickmans were sentenced to 75 months in prison, the mandatory minimum under Measure 11 sentencing guidelines.

    Right thing or not, it was mandatory, so we don’t know what the judge would have done without Measure 11 (whatever that is, Wes?)

    The sad part is that it probably won’t change future behavior.  With God, anything is permitted.

    • Robert Voss

      Rich:
      Measure 11 is Oregon’s required sentencing guidelines that judges must follow when sentencing criminals.  The minimum sentence for this particular crime is 75 months.  However, there was a religious exception to measure 11 that allowed for a reduced sentence that judges could impose if they wished to.  The reduced sentence for the past few cases (child deaths) involving Followers of Christ Church was chosen by judges who sentenced the parents of the dead children to 16 to 18 months (14 months if good behavior).  This case was the first time that a judge did not use the religious exception to measure 11 for the Followers of Christ Church child deaths.  This is a big deal here in Oregon.  I live 9 miles from the “Church.”  

      Last year the district attorneys of the three counties closest to the “Church” pushed a law through the Oregon House which eliminated the religious exception to measure 11.  Kudos to them.  Unfortunately the Hickman baby died just before the new law took affect.  That meant that the judge in this case could have imposed a sentence to this crime of 16 to 18 months if he so desired.  He did not.  He gave them 75 months.  It appears that we finally have a judge with a spine.  In the newspaper account the judge also referred to the midwife (also a member of Followers of Christ) as the most dangerous person in the county.

      So now the members of this church understand that if they neglect their children in this manner again, they will be paying a heavier price.  Still pretty light in my view.

      Robert Voss

  • Anonymous

    I’m reasonably sure if I was to murder a random child I would get more than 6 years. Probably 20 to life.

  • Steve

    Maybe, the state has an interest in following all the families in that church. I know that is very heretical, but these cult members are a clear and present danger to their children and I would think that an ounce of prevention is in order here.

  • Nathan

    They should spend a lot more time in jail than that. They knew the baby was sick, they knew that their baby was going to die, and they refused to take it to a hospital where the child would have easily been saved.

    To me that’s murder.

    I don’t care if that’s their religious beliefs. When your beliefs cost people lives, then it’s time for you to go away and never be responsible for another life again.

  • Kathy Orlinsky

    I find it telling that the mother says she could not have called 911 because her husband didn’t allow it.  Obviously, she lives a tightly controlled and monitored life.  It makes me wonder whether she would have been glad to get some outside help for her child if there had been any way (within her limited worldview) to ask for it.  If so, then she may be another victim here.

    On the other hand, maybe she would have insisted that they not call 911 even if her husband had allowed it.  

    • Anonymous

      Prison should suit her then.

    • JenL

      You and I interpreted her statement differently then – I didn’t think there was any actual physical thing stopping her from picking up the phone and calling.  She *could* have called 911.  But her husband said no.  So she chose to obey her religion, which says to obey her husband. 

      She had access to a phone.  She could have dialed.  She prioritized “don’t sin” over “save my child”. 

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

        I’m torn. On the one hand, she had the option of calling. Regardless of what her husband told her to do. Regardless of what their pastor taught them. She had the choice.

        On the other, when you’re in a relationship where you’re tightly controlled, and the controlling partner tells you not to do something, it’s usually backed up by a threat (implicit or explicit) of violence. I’ve been there, and it’s the worst feeling in the world, knowing you should do something, but being unable to act because you know he’ll explode on you if you do.

        So I can understand her not calling.

        • Nicole S

          So she’s more afraid for her own life than her child’s? She shouldn’t be a mother. 

          • Rich Wilson

            I have no doubt that had it been a burning building, or an oncoming train, she would have given her life for her child’s without a thought.

            But it’s not as simple as reasoning out “if I do X my abuser will do Y”.  It’s more falling into a pattern of not thinking, and just doing what the abuser thinks, rather than thinking about the direct consequences.

            I’m not saying the sentence should have been less.  If anything it should have been more.  But if we want to move forward, we have to understand how they think, not expect them to think like we do.

            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

              Like I said, you just… do what you’re told, because that’s all you CAN do.

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

            Have you ever been in an abusive relationship? When someone has that kind of hold on you, you don’t stop to question — you just do what you’re told, because you’ve been conditioned to respond in that way.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

     What was their preacher’s sentence?

    • Annie

      Exactly.  I don’t think they parents are free of blame, but if they truly believe they must follow the teachings of their church or burn in hell… well, then they are delusional but not necessarily criminal.  That being said, you have to reach a high level of delusion to sit back and watch your own child die. 

    • Anonymous

      That’s what I want to know. Surely the church must take some responsibility.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

     What was their preacher’s sentence?

  • Tisha

    Basically these people are being imprisoned for doing exactly what their congressman voted today that we should all do. Every one of us.

    God is so very trustworthy.

    • Rich Wilson

      Brilliant.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      In God We Trust (within reason)

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget about Herbert and Catherine Schaible – http://tiny.cc/4fcje

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if they’re “pro life” on the abortion issue?

  • AthiestAUS

    Natural selection working its magic… stupid is as a stupid does

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    How many more of these cases will we see before it’s considered abuse to withhold medical treatment from a child?

  • Anonymous

    They were following religious doctrine, doesn’t that make it premeditated, and therefore murder?
    I’m hoping that this child didn’t die in vain, I sincerely hope that the other religiously retarded people begin to think for themselves and act upon self preservation instinct and call paramedics if their children fall ill.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23430830 Matthew Shepherd

    I was arguing with a fan of William Lane Craig not so long ago on just this sort of thing: what it would take to label something an “unacceptable delusion”. It is an unacceptable delusion to think that prayer works over modern medicine when the effects are so deadly in many cases.

  • http://twitter.com/Bariman43 Baris Bicer

    6 years is not even remotely enough for these bastards. And what the hell, because of what the church says, the woman isn’t allowed to call 911 because her husband wouldn’t let her? Sorry, I thought we were living in 2011, where people were at least remotely sane.

  • Rachel Holierhoek

    I was a child who was prayed over and anointed with oil instead of treated by medical doctors OR even immunized.  While I managed to survive measles and other illnesses throughout my childhood, my sister was almost not so lucky.  Her body was destroying her slowly because she had a blood disease which caused her red blood cells to be misshaped.  Luckily an older sister said “fuck this shit” and scheduled a doctor’s appointment and forced my mother to take my sister to the doctor.  My younger sister was so weak the doctor cleared his office and carried her in his arms to the ambulance he called to retrieve her.  He went with her to the nearest children’s hospital where he spent days pouring over medical texts to try and figure out what was wrong with her.  She was in a severe aplastic crisis and because of her disease, transfusions would have killed her at that time.  Science saved my sister’s life.  Doctors informed my mother that because of my sister’s disease, her immune system was particularly fragile and she would die if she contracted any of the childhood illnesses that none of us were immunized against.   We were all promptly immunized.  

  • JenL

    If they already had other children, I hope those children are taken out of that cult, not fostered to another pair like their parents.

  • Anonymous

    Where do people get that this was the maximum sentence.

    Quite the opposite, it appears to be the mandatory MINIMUM sentence, which forces me to wonder if the judge would not have been more lenient if he weren’t required by law to impose the sentence he did.

  • Steve

    I would point out one other thing… These people probably believe that they are martyrs. It is the flaming collision of the Constitution with crazy cultists. These people are sheep – they didn’t dream this crap up on their own, so they have a preacher advocating child abuse. And yet there is likely nothing legal that can be done that wouldn’t be outside the bounds of the Constitution. It is depressing.

  • Brian C Posey

    Ironically, these couples will probably support this church more fervently now.  If they ever realize it’s all bullshit, they then have to admit to themselves what they’ve done to their children.

  • http://www.allaspectsuk.co.uk/location/west-midlands/coventry/pest-control.asp Sabrina

     I really like the concept of this post and I feel that this is a very unique and rare information that you have managed to compile. It is quite interesting to read about this very rare topic.
    I thought we were living in 2011, where people were at least remotely sane. 


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X