Death by Deity (October 2003)

Son Smothered with Duct Tape

Rev. Christy Edgar of God’s Christian Outreach Ministry in Kansas City, Kan., pleaded guilty to murder and child abuse on Sept. 18, on the eve of her trial over the Dec. 30 death of her adopted son. Brian Edgar, 9, suffocated on vomit after he had been wrapped from head to toe with duct tape, leaving only his nose uncovered. He was being punished for “stealing food.” The prosecutor said he and two other Edgar children were often disciplined by being tied up all night. Edgar’s husband and four other church members still face child abuse charges.

Source: AP, Sept. 18, 2003

Sisters Hacked to Death

Three Jordanian brothers hacked their two sisters to death with axes on Sept. 8 in the capital city of Amman, in an “honor killing” condoned under Muslim culture.

The 27-year-old sister, who had a 10-month-old baby, had left home nearly two years ago to marry a man without her family’s consent. Her 20-year-old sister had joined her three months ago. “It was a brutal scene. One victim’s head was nearly cut clean off,” an official said. The day before the killings Parliament had rejected a bill imposing harsher sentences for “honor killings.”

Source: BBC News, Sept. 10, 2003

Baby Dies Without Care

A couple who chose prayer instead of medicine, watching their sick baby daughter die, was sentenced to a year of weekends in jail and parenting classes. Julia, 11 months, died of bacterial meningitis in July 2001, suffering high fever, vomiting, and convulsions. The parents pleaded no contest to charges of involuntary manslaughter and child abuse. Richard and Angeles Weibe are members of the Church of God, Upland, Calif., which shuns medical care.

Source: Associated Press, Sept. 16, 2003

Untreated Newborn Dies

Rhiana Rose Schmidt, who was born on Aug. 17, died on Aug. 19, after being delivered breech-birth at home to parents who belong to the General Assembly Church of the Firstborn in Morgantown, Ind. The church eschews medical care. She died of puerperal sepsis, a general infection acquired at birth, which is treated with antibiotics. She had difficulty breathing from the onset and the family knew she was ill, but believed it wrong to rely on medicine over “God’s will.” Hers is the third such death involving children from the same church. Prematurely-born Aspen Daniel died at six days of dehydration and underdevelopment in November 1998. Bradley Hamm, 12, died in February 1999 of an undetected heart attack. Indiana law provides a defense for parents providing “spiritual care.” No charges have been brought in any of these cases.

Source: [Johnson Co., Ind.] Daily Journal, Aug. 23-24, 2003

Man Attempts Two Murders

A Seattle man said he slit his girlfriend’s throat and tried to stab her friend on March 28 because God wanted him to eradicate them as “devils.” Jacob Garnet, 32, who was charged with first-degree attempted murder and related charges, insists “God will ensure his acquittal.”

Source: King County Journal, Aug. 9, 2003

Killing Women for Christ

Gary Leon Ridgway, 52, of Auburn, Wash., believed to be the “Green River Killer,” has been charged by King County prosecutors with killing seven women. He was known for reading the bible at work, trying to “save” others, going door to door for a Pentecostal Church, and bragging about picking up prostitutes. He would sit in front of a TV with his bible open on his lap, and often cried at church services. There are 49 known female victims in the Green River murders, so-named because the first five victims were found in the Green River in 1982. Many of the victims were runaways or prostitutes. First arrested last November, Green directed investigators to remains of another alleged victim in August.

Source: King County Journal, Aug. 8, 2003

Pious Man Kills Wife, Kids

A judge temporarily committed Edward Morris, 37, to a mental hospital after finding him incapable of standing trial for the murder of his pregnant wife Renee, 31, and her three children, 10, 8, and 4, who were found in late December in the snowy Tillamook State Forest in Oregon. Morris’s minivan sported bumperstickers honoring a Christian evangelist and the Promise Keepers. He was described by friends and relatives as “extremely religious.”

Source: Oregonian, June 20, 2003

Christian Mom Stones Sons Deanna LaJune “Dee” Laney, of Tyler, Texas, was charged with capital murder after calling 911 to report she had stoned to death her sons, Luke Allen Laney, 6, and Joshua Laney, 8, and tried to kill Aaron, 14 months. She told police God wanted her to kill her children. She was described as an intensely devout member of First Assembly of God, where the minister had just warned about the imminence of the Antichrist, Armageddon, and the return of Jesus.

Source: Dallas Morning News, May 12, 2003

Exorcism Kills Teen

Walter Zepeda, 19, died of dehydration after a 7-day “exorcism” in his basement apartment in London, Ontario, at the hands of his father and a fellow church member.

Diego Zepeda-Cordera and Missionary Church of Christ member Alex Osegueda pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The mother, Ana Mejia-Lopez, received one day in jail, following 500 days of incarceration. Walter was tied to chairs in the apartment, bruising his wrists and ankles. A pastor and ten other church members periodically prayed over him. Walter’s mouth was duct-taped when he screamed.

Source: Toronto Globe & Mail, May 23, 2003

Father Kills Son

Ivan Henk, of Plattsmouth, Neb., whose son, Brendan Gonzalez, age 4, had been missing since Jan. 6, admitted in a courtroom outburst in April that he killed his son.

“The reason I killed Brendan is that he was the Antichrist. He had 666 on his forehead.”

Source: Lincoln Journal Star, April 30, 2003

Shunned Dad Kills Family

Oregon investigators linked “shunning,” a practice by Jehovah’s Witnesses against erring church members, to the December 2001 murders of a wife and three children by Christian Longo. The family moved to Oregon from Michigan after being disfellowshipped, involving the severing of all social, family and business relationships. Longo was condemned to death by a jury in April, following a 6-week trial.

In a similar case, Robert Bryant of McMinnville, Ore., killed his wife, their four children and himself in February 2002, after being disfellowshipped by the JWs.

Sources: Register Guard, March 2, 2003; Oregonian, April 27, 2003

Teen Dies of Untreated Cancer

A Tennessee mother who let her daughter die of untreated bone cancer last fall was indicted on misdemeanor charges in April. Jessica Crank, 15, died on Sept. 15. Members of the New Life Ministries prayed over the girl’s open casket for her resurrection.

Jessica had a basketball-sized tumor on her shoulder. Mother Jacqueline Crank, 42, and Ariel Ben Sherma, 74, the church leader, each face a single count of child abuse and neglect.

Source:, April 17, 2003

Killer Cites Islam

A former employee of Pakistan’s Interior Ministry was sentenced to death for killing seven members of his family because his daughter planned to marry a Christian. Mohammed Nawaz turned himself in to police in September 2002. He said his crimes, which included killing his pregnant wife, also a Christian, protected the family honor.

Pakistan’s main human rights body reported at least 461 women were killed by family members in “honor killings” last year, and 631 “honor killings” have occurred in the first eight months of this year.

Sources: Associated Press, April 17, 2003; Scotsman, Sept. 16, 2003

Killer Cites Bible

A man in West Valley, Utah, charged with killing his wife and small daughter in February, described the slayings as a test of faith similar to the biblical story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. Brian Christopher Sullivan, 38, stabbed to death LaRae Marara Sullivan, 33, and Kehaulani Marie, 4.

“By doing what I was asked by my Heavenly Father, I have now secured me a place with them in heaven. . . . I follow God’s laws.” He claimed to be the predecessor to the “Second Coming of Christ.”

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, April 4, 2003

Religious Mom Slays Daughters

Tracy Camburn of Zeeland, Mich., is serving a life sentence after being found guilty but mentally ill last December by a jury of stabbing to death her daughters Candice, 10, and Kimberly, 5. They were found under a bloody comforter covered by a bible in her home with a note saying it was “D-Day.” Camburn said she took satisfaction in knowing her girls were with Jesus.

In April, the Church of the Nazarene, which Camburn was so devoted to, announced it was starting a fundraiser for a “memorial garden” for the girls.

Sources: Holland Sentinel, April 4, 2003; Jan. 1, 2003; Nov. 15, 2002

Toddler Starved for God

Winnfred Wright, 46, was sentenced to a maximum term of 16 years, 8 months in prison by a Marin County judge for starving his son, 19 months, who died in November 2001. The boy was at a 5-month level of physical development and suffered from rickets. Wright, the patriarch of a Lucas Valley home, lived with three women and has 12 children. He believed strict discipline and a diet of herbal supplements was holy and brought his family closer to God.

Source: Associated Press, March 17, 2003

Faith Did Him In

A friend of James W. Killeen, 50, Tucson, found him on Jan. 23 decomposing in his home while his wife and others prayed for his resurrection.

They had not reported his death. Stan Adair Bennett, director of World Ministries, conducted the prayers. Buddy Martinez, his co-worker and friend, told police Killeen’s faith killed him. He suffered from diabetes and other health problems. When friends and family called to check on him over the holidays, his wife of six months told them he was on a 40-day fast.

Source: Arizona Daily Star, March 1, 2003

Freedom From Religion Foundation