The Hickman Case
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Shannon M. Hickman Dale R. Hickman

Shannon and Dale belong to a religious group which eschews formal medical care. They have been prosecuted for the death of an infant son born in September, 2009. The baby was born six weeks premature, weighed 3 pounds, 5 ounces, and lived nine hours. The prosecutor in Oregon City has been targeting this group for a long time with bad results. The conviction of Shannon and Dale is one of religious persecution. Both were sentenced to 6 years and 3 months for second degree manslaughter.

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Followers of Christ judge bars 'witch hunt' comment from upcoming trial in baby's death
Published: Tuesday, August 02, 2011, 8:03 PM     Updated: Wednesday, August 03, 2011, 6:00 AM

Steve Mayes, The Oregonian

Dale R. Hickman
Shannon M. Hickman

A state medical examiner who concluded that two members of an Oregon City faith-healing church were victims of a prosecutorial "witch hunt" will not be allowed to offer that opinion when the defendants go to trial next month.

Clackamas County Presiding Judge Robert D. Herndon  ruled in a pretrial hearing Tuesday that the comment made by Dr. Clifford Nelson is "his personal opinion and not relevant" and would have a "prejudicial effect" that outweighs its value as evidence.

Nelson performed an autopsy on David Hickman, who was born Sept. 26, 2009, at his maternal grandmother's house and lived only nine hours. The baby's parents, Dale and Shannon Hickman, are charged with second-degree manslaughter.

If allowed into evidence at trial, Nelson's "witch hunt" comment would have provided defense attorneys with a potentially powerful image to make the case for selective prosecution and religious persecution of their clients. In fact, the defense team included a reference in court filings comparing the Hickman case to the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s.

The defense pointed to comments Nelson made to an investigator that underscore his reason for the witch-hunt observation.

Previous coverage of the Hickman case

"This had become a criminal investigation before it really was known what the cause or manner of death was," Nelson told the investigator. "It was proceeding much differently than another investigation would have taken place, had these people not been involved with a specific church group."

The Hickmans are members of the Followers of Christ, which embraces faith healing and rejects medical care. Prosecutors claim the Hickmans failed to provide medical care for the baby because of their religious beliefs.

Prosecutors said Nelson was misinformed, that his unsolicited opinion was ignored by investigators and viewed as an unprofessional personal comment.

The state is legally required to investigate all child deaths, said Michael Regan, a senior deputy district attorney. Nelson mistakenly believed that an outside doctor was being brought in to assist with the investigation, which would have violated state guidelines for death investigations. In fact, prosecutors were trying to determine the baby's gestational age, something outside Nelson's expertise.

The baby was born six to eight weeks premature and weighed about 3 1/2 pounds. Shannon Hickman went into labor more than 24 hours before she gave birth, prosecutors said. David Hickman died of a bacterial infection of his lungs, which were underdeveloped.

Had the Hickmans called for medical aid when labor started or when the baby was born, it is likely the baby would have survived, Regan said. Failure to seek medical care led to the manslaughter charge.

In the case of premature labor, a trained homebirth midwife would direct the mother to go to the hospital. Shannon Hickman was attended by other female church members who apparently have no medical training.

Wouldn't parents of a child born two months prematurely call for medical help, Regan asked.

"That's what ... most people would do," Nelson said.

Although David Hickman arrived prematurely and was underweight, he appeared to be healthy until the last 15 minutes of his life, said defense attorneys Mark Cogan and John Neidig. When the end came, there was nothing that could be done. Even if an ambulance was called, it would not have arrived before the baby died, the attorneys said.

The Hickmans are the seventh and eighth church members to be tried for failure to seek medical care for their children.
Dale and Shannon Hickman receive 6-year sentence, harshest yet for faith-healing church