(Associated Press) Dateline: HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa.: A couple who believed that prayer can heal should not be prosecuted in the death of their teenage daughter because they did not intend for her to die, their attorney said Monday. Lorie and Dennis Nixon of Altoona went to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of 16-year-old Shannon Nixon last year. She died of a heart attack brought on by untreated diabetes. The couple, who belong to the Faith Tabernacle Church, also lost a son to illness several years earlier.
"This case is not about the prosecution of criminals. This case is about the persecution of well-intended, well-meaning parents," defense attorney Steven Passarello told jurors in Blair County Court. District Atty. William Haberstroh said doctors will testify this week that "there is absolutely no reason why this child should have died."
State law requires parents to protect children who are younger than 18, he said. He pointed out that Shannon had been to a doctor as a requirement for her drivers' license and had seen a dentist. Shannon had complained to her parents for several days that she wasn't feeling well, she vomited repeatedly and was constantly thirsty, the parents told police at the time.
She asked for a healing ceremony from the church rather than a doctor. She was unconscious for several hours before she died, with a minister and her parents praying over her.
Five years earlier, the couple's 8-year-old son, Clayton, died of an inner-ear infection. That time, they pleaded no contest and were sentenced to probation. They also were ordered to perform community service in a hospital at the request of Haberstroh, who wanted them to see the positive effects of medicine. But no hospital would accept them as volunteers, so they performed their community service elsewhere, he said.
The couple have eight surviving children and Mrs. Nixon, 44, is pregnant again. Haberstroh has said he would not seek more than a year in prison if they are convicted.
The Nixons are the latest members of the Faith Tabernacle to go up against the state in the treatable deaths of their children. The Nixons are clinging to the belief that prayer rather than medical treatment can heal.
Two other members of the Philadelphia-based sect have been convicted, in 1983 and 1992, of involuntary manslaughter for allowing their [children] to die.
In 1991 in suburban Philadelphia, five more children died during a measles outbreak, and in the 1970s, a Faith Tabernacle couple in suburban Philadelphia lost five children before age 2 to untreated cystic fibrosis.
In church Sunday, pastor Charles Nixon, Dennis Nixon's father, told the biblical tale of David and Goliath in his sermon as his daughter-in-law listened. Mrs. Nixon sat calmly, flanked by female relatives as her father-in-law spoke. The biblical David "left the battle in the hands of the Lord, so he didn't need to worry about winning it," the pastor told the 80 worshipers.
Called "baby killers" by some, the Faith Tabernacle refuses to elaborate beyond pamphlets in the church foyer about its beliefs.
If these blokes had professed Satanism instead of Christianity, every newspaper and TV reporter in the nation would have crucified these parents. The State would have sent the parents to prison after a speedy trial for manslaughter. Somehow these parents being Christians have made them immune to the denunciation and criminal procecution they deserve.