Parents charged in diabetes death
They didn't get medical help for sick daughter, 11
By Bill Glauber and Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: April 29, 2008
Even as her 11-year-old daughter lay dying on a mattress on the floor of the family dining room on Easter Sunday, Leilani Neumann never wavered in her belief in the power of prayer.
"We just thought it was a spiritual attack and we prayed for her," Neumann said, according to a police report. "My husband, Dale, was crying and mentioned taking Kara to the doctor, and I said the Lord's going to heal her and we continued to pray."
Prayer didn't save Madeline Kara Neumann, who died of untreated diabetes March 23.
And now, the law is poised to come down hard on the girl's parents, Leilani and Dale Neumann, who were both charged with second-degree reckless homicide Monday by Marathon County District Attorney Jill Falstad.
If convicted, the parents face maximum sentences of 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The parents are scheduled to make their first court appearance Wednesday in Marathon County Circuit Court.
The Neumanns, of Weston, could not be reached for comment. Their attorney, Gene Linehan, also declined comment, according to a receptionist at his Wausau office.
Prosecutors said they looked at the "progression of the illness" as they weighed charges in the case.
"By that Saturday (the day before the girl's death) you had an 11-year-old child who wasn't eating, so she wasn't getting any nourishment, she wasn't taking in any fluids, she wasn't walking, she was struggling to get to the bathroom," Falstad said. "She really was very vulnerable and helpless. And it seemed apparent that everybody knew that. As her illness progressed to the next morning being comatose . . . it just is very, very surprising, shocking that she wasn't allowed medical prevention (attention).
"She had a disease that was treatable and her death could have been prevented," Falstad said.
The Neumanns, who own a coffee shop in Weston, have three other children who are living with relatives in the area under an agreement with authorities.
'People of faith'
The Neumanns have said they don't believe in any organized religion or faith but believe that healing comes through prayer.
During an interview with Everest Metro Police, Dale Neumann said he and his family are "people of faith." According to one family member interviewed by police, the Neumanns are Pentecostal and were starting a small ministry at their coffee shop.
According to the police report, made available with the charging documents, Dale Neumann said "throughout the interview that he and his family do not need any traditional medical intervention nor do they 'believe' in it."
The document also states: "Neumann said his family never gets sick and if they would, prayer and God would heal them."
The Neumanns both said they noticed a change in Kara's health around two weeks before her death.
"(Dale) Neumann said that he really didn't think she was ill but rather said that he thought her symptoms were due to Madeline's reaching puberty," the document said. The family called their daughter Kara, although authorities also refer to her as Madeline in documents.
Dale Neumann said on the Friday before his daughter died he noticed she was "a little more tired," but that she ate a McDonald's meal without any problems. By Saturday he noted the girl "seemed to act like she had a fever" while her breathing seemed a little labored.
Meanwhile, Leilani Neumann told police that by Saturday, "Kara was laying on the couch. Her legs looked skinny and blue. I didn't realize how skinny she was. We took her to my bed where I got her warm. I thought it was a spiritual attack. We stayed by her side nonstop and we prayed.
"I asked Kara if she loved Jesus and she shook her head yes."
Later Saturday, "Kara got up to go to the bathroom and fell off the toilet," Leilani Neumann told police.
Dale Neumann told police he thought his daughter was getting better on Sunday but that at one point he tried to sit her up but she was unable to remain up.
The investigator said he used the term "unconscious" to describe the girl's condition, according to the report, while Dale Neumann "preferred to say that she was 'in sleep mode.' "
Dale Neumann said Kara couldn't communicate and wasn't taking any water.
By noon, the family contacted another couple, Randall and Althea Wormgoor.
The Wormgoors had followed the Neumanns from California to Wisconsin, a relationship apparently stoked by religious as well as potential business ties. There was talk of opening a second coffee shop in the area that the Wormgoors would operate, the police report says.
The Wormgoors arrived at the home 30 minutes before Kara stopped breathing, Dale Neumann said.
Randall Wormgoor encouraged Dale Neumann to call for medical help but the father "said he remained confident and steadfast in his belief that prayer would heal Madeline," according to an interview Dale Neumann gave to police.
Dale Neumann said he heard a "commotion" coming from the room where his daughter was lying down and that he began CPR efforts. One of the Wormgoors called 911.
Dale Neumann told investigators that "given the same set of circumstances with another child, he would not waiver in his faith and confidence in the healing power of prayer," according to the interview statement.
Police also said an e-mail Dale Neumann sent at 4:58 p.m. on March 22, the day before Kara's death, showed that the parents were aware their daughter was very ill.
The subject line of the email was: "Help our daughter needs emergency prayer!!!!" The e-mail was send to AmericasLastDays, an online ministry run by David Eells.
Case could set precedent
Falstad, the district attorney, said the case is likely to be precedent-setting in Wisconsin.
"There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the availability of a 'religious defense' in this case," Falstad said in a prepared statement to announce the charges. "In our nation, we have a constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. We also give parents leeway in matters of child rearing. However, neither is absolute. In this case, it was necessary to weigh freedom of religion and parenting rights against the state's interests in protecting children."
Wisconsin state law appears to allow an exemption from child abuse charges for parents who engage in treatment by spiritual means through prayer. But the exemption applies only if the use of prayer alone is the basis for charges.
Prosecutors say that exemption does not extend to homicide cases.
Shawn F. Peters, a University of Wisconsin-Madison teacher and author of "When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children and the Law," said the exemption for prayer could still impact the case.
"I think the prosecutor did the best she could with the law she has," he said.