Milwaukee DA's Message to the World: Religion Excuses Violence?

Minister Faces Only Abuse Charge for Boy's Death

The Freedom From Religion Foundation today called upon Milwaukee District Attorney E. Michael McCann to "throw the full force of Wisconsin law" against the faith-healing minister and his accomplices whose actions killed an 8-year-old autistic boy on August 22 during an "exorcism."

The District Attorney's office today announced only one charge of felony child abuse against the Rev. Ray Hemphill, although the medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide.

The Foundation wrote McCann that the minister allegedly demonstrated reckless disregard for life, tortured, battered and bruised the victim, engaged in false imprisonment and, at minimum, should be charged with involuntary manslaughter. His accomplices, who held down the child, aided and abetted such crimes.

McCann announced the state could not prove that Hemphill realized there was a "great likelihood" of causing great bodily harm or death, as required in a homicide charge.

Disagreeing, the Foundation noted that Hemphill, at 157 pounds, had to realize he was endangering the boy's life as he sat or lay on the helpless boy for two hours while his arms and torso were restrained. The boy, who could not bear to be touched, was subjected to similar torture over the past three weeks.

The DA further cited a Wisconsin statute, geared toward parents who treat childhood illness with faith healing, which provides that someone cannot be found guilty "solely because he or she provides a child with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone." Foundation spokesperson Annie Laurie Gaylor challenged the district attorney to "take the lead in advocating repeal of this statute, if you sincerely find it to be a potential barrier to justice."

"But clearly the acts in question were not 'solely prayer alone,' " wrote Gaylor. She cited public statements by a church leader insisting they "didn't do nothing wrong" and even claiming God "chose to fix it by taking him back home to God."

At this point, Hemphill faces at maximum 5 years imprisonment, sending "a message that Milwaukee County does not value the life of Terrance Cottrell, and that cruelty and criminal conduct in the name of religion will be rewarded with token charges.

"The world is watching, and justice needs to be served," Gaylor wrote.

She added: "This case is so tragic, such a throwback to the Dark Ages, and such a testament to the harm of religion to children and as part of public policy."

Write, phone or fax District Attorney E. Michael McCann
831 W State St
Safety Building, Room 405
Milwaukee WI 53233
414/278-4646
fax 414/223-1955

Foundation's full letter

Link to news stories below:

Minister charged with abuse in boy's death: http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/aug03/165087.asp

Church expects clearance in death: http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/aug03/164632.asp

Boy's death ruled homicide: http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/aug03/164862.asp

Leaders were trying to heal boy: http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/aug03/164521.asp

Boy dies during prayer service: http://www.madison.com/archives/read.php?ref=wsj:2003:08:25:278598

Ministers were trying to heal boy, pastor says (Aug. 23, 2003): http://www.jsonline.com/news/Metro/aug03/164521.asp

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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