Child Abuse Letter

District Attorney E. Michael McCann
Safety Bldg., Rm. 405, 821 W. State St.
Milwaukee WI 53233

Dear District Attorney:

On behalf of our membership in Milwaukee County, we urge your office to throw the full force of Wisconsin law against the Rev. Ray Hemphill and his accomplices for killing 8-year-old Terrance Cottrell Jr.

Today’s announced charge of one count of felony child abuse is lamentably insufficient. Hemphill and his accomplices allegedly demonstrated reckless disregard for life, tortured, battered and bruised the victim, and engaged in false imprisonment. The medical examiner determined cause of death to be homicide. If your office is convinced it cannot “prove” homicide, involuntary manslaughter at minimum applies. We would like to see the day when ministerial menaces engaging in reckless faith-healing are further charged with practicing medicine without a license. We expect your office to charge Hemphill’s accomplices, as has occurred in similar tragic instances in other states.

Our office is deeply concerned at your interpretation of a Wisconsin statute that provides that someone is not guilty “solely because he or she provides a child with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone.” We would like to see you 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.” Just because someone is a self-described minister in a storefront unregistered “church” and “prays” while he is committing a crime cannot be used to excuse violence or make perpetrators immune from prosecution. To suggest such is to set a thoughtless, dangerous precedent.

Clearly, the suspect didn’t care about the consequences to his victim, and his church still admits no wrong. Consider the statements the suspect’s brother, Bishop David Hemphill, made following this tragic death: “Didn’t do nothing wrong. We did what the Book of Matthew said, Chapter 12. All we did is ask God to deliver him.”

The death will not change the way the church operates: “How you going to change the Bible?” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/25/03)

“The boy just had a problem in his mind, and what we were doing was asking God to fix it. He chose to fix it by taking him back home to God.”

“All I know is we’re not guilty of anything.” (Associated Press, 8/25/03)

Consider a grown 157-pound man overpowering, lying upon and sitting on top of a mentally disabled, helpless 8-year-old boy whose arms and torso were restrained for hours! How could Hemphill not realize his actions had a likelihood of endangering this boy’s life? This abuse had been ongoing for three weeks.

The lone charge carrying at maximum 5 years imprisonment sends 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.


Annie Laurie Gaylor

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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