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Another Deadly Exorcism

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Minister tried for killing boy during exorcism

Minister Ray Hemphill faced five years in prison if convicted in the death of an autistic boy during an attempt to cure the child of his 'demons.'

By Lisa Sweetingham

Court TV

Ray Hemphill, a self-described minister of a Milwaukee strip-mall church, thought he was doing the Lord's work when he forcefully pinned an autistic 8-year-old boy and prayed over him in a series of "spiritual healings."

On a Friday night in August 2003, Terrance Cottrell's mother and two other women at the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith prayed and sang as they helped the minister lay the boy on the floor and restrain his legs and arms as he struggled, kicked and scratched.

Hemphill, who reportedly weighed more than 150 pounds, sprawled across Terrance "to keep him from hitting his head on the floor, because he was bucking," a church official later told reporters.

Terrance Cottrell

After two intense hours of casting out what he believed were evil demons, Hemphill arose, his shirt soaked in sweat, and realized that Terrance wasn't moving anymore.

In fact, at some point, the boy had urinated on himself and his face had turned blue.

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The doe-eyed child, who was set to start third grade the following week, had suffocated on the church floor, while his mother and onlookers helped an ignorant man of the cloth perform a pointless exorcism.

Hemphill stood trial in July 2004 on charges of felony child abuse. If convicted, he faced up to five years in prison.

Though the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, District Attorney Michael McCann pursued the lesser charge of felony child abuse, because he said it would be difficult to prove Hemphill knew his actions presented a great likelihood of causing Terrance's death.

"It was a gutless and, I thought, immoral decision on his part," said Annie Laurie Gaylor of The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group in Madison, Wisc., dedicated to issues of separation of church and state. Upon hearing of the charges, FFRF members commenced a letter-writing campaign to the DA's office, ultimately to no effect.

Further complicating the case against Hemphill is a little-known "Treatment through Prayer" statute designed to protect Christian Scientist parents.

Under the state law, anyone who "provides a child with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone for healing in accordance with the religious method of healing" is not guilty of child abuse.

"It's just a travesty," Gaylor told Courttv.com. "The message it sends is that in Wisconsin you can kill kids with faith healing and we won't charge you with the full force of the law."

Hemphill was banned from performing exorcisms, but it's not clear whether he has accepted any personal responsibility for Terrance's death.

"He's very upset that the child was called to God," Thomas Harris, Hemphill's attorney, told Courttv.com prior to the trial. "I think that's how he would put it."

Medication Factor

At the time of his death, Terrance was on Ziprasidone, an antipsychotic drug that is used to treat schizophrenia, rage and aggression. Ziprasidone can alleviate symptoms of hearing voices, seeing things, and sensing things that are not there, as well as severe withdrawal from family and friends.

In very rare cases — some studies say less than 1 percent — it can cause neuroleptic malignant syndrome, a potentially fatal reaction marked by fever, sweating, unstable blood pressure, stupor, muscular rigidity and autonomic dysfunction.

Autism manifests itself in unique ways, and the severity of Terrance's disorder was a central issue in the trial. The range of behaviors can be frustrating and heartbreaking for parents. Unresponsiveness; tantrums; unwillingness to cuddle or be touched; difficulty in expressing needs; over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain; little or no eye contact; and screaming, laughing, crying and showing distress for no apparent reason are all typical symptoms.

To a deeply religious person with no faith in the medical model, such children might appear to be, literally, little devils.

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Though Terrance's treatments and special-education classes were paid for by Social Security, his mother, Pat Cooper, was single, unemployed and in her late 20s. She likely had few places to turn for help when she met a member of Hemphill's flock in a doctor's waiting room, months before her son was accidentally asphyxiated.

According to the criminal complaint, Hemphill told authorities he had been ordained as a minister by his brother, David Hemphill, the pastor of the independent storefront church. He stated that he needed no official theological training in order to become a "church elder," as he had "received his calling from the Lord."

In the three weeks leading up to Terrance's death, Hemphill led private prayer sessions at about 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, in an effort to cast away the demons he believed were causing the boy's afflictions.

The final deadly session, on Aug. 22, 2003, was Hemphill's ninth "religious service."

Medical examiners, who also found extensive bruising on the back of Terrance's neck, later determined that the pressure applied to the boy's chest had prevented him from breathing.

Hemphill was arrested the next morning and released a few days later on a $5,000 signature bond, meaning he did not have to post the money but would forfeit that amount if he violated the judge's main condition of his bail — no more exorcisms or spiritual healing of any kind.

Shortly afterward, the city revoked the church's right to operate in an area zoned for industrial use.

Casting Out Demons

It seems implausible that some still view mental illness through the demonology paradigm popular in the 13th century. But according to Rita Swan, president of Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty, 20 states have laws that protect those who commit felony crimes against children, based on a religious defense.

In 1977, Swan and her husband, Doug, were devoted Christian Scientists. They were devastated when their 16-month-old son Matthew died of spinal meningitis, after Christian Scientist practitioners assured them that his illness could be healed with spiritual "treatments."

In 1983, Swan started CHILD, Inc., a nonprofit aimed at protecting children from abusive religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect.

The watchdog group actively pursues legislation to repeal religious exemptions, including in states like Delaware and West Virginia, where some laws allow a religious defense to the murder of a child.

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"Most states have tried to change their laws in recent years, so that prosecutors don't have to prove 'intent to harm' to get a conviction with serious prison time when kids die," Swan said. "But many children have died and the state has taken no action because of these laws."

Swan cites Oregon — a state that currently has a religious defense to homicide by abuse — where 80 children have died at the hands of faith healers.

But there are still religious defenses to manslaughter and murder of a child in Iowa, Ohio, Delaware, West Virginia and Arkansas.

In Wisconsin, without legislative action, it appeared that even a guilty verdict in Hemphill's trial would have little effect on the severity of charges imposed in future cases of children accidentally killed in the name of God.

When the District Attorney was asked by reporters about Wisconsin's treatment-through-prayer statute, he said he believed the law should be repealed.

"I've been aware of that provision and concerned about it for a number of years," McCann said. "I think it has the potential for mischief."

The Verdict

After about four hours of deliberations, the jury of six men and six women found Ray Hemphill guilty of felony child abuse.

The Sentencing

On Aug. 18, 2004, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jean DiMotto sentenced Hemphill to two-and-a-half years behind bars — half of the maximum sentence of five years. The judge also sentenced Hemphill to seven-and-a-half years of extended supervision and ordered him to pay about $1,200 in restitution.

"It was your unreasonable and reckless conduct that caused this child to die," DiMotto said as he meted out the sentence

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Looks like MURDER to me.

Geee....wonder why this boy's parents couldn't just accept him for the beautiful child he was. Was his head spinning around or something?

This makes me sick and I'm going to bed. :goodnight:

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