Janitor guilty in 'exorcism' death

News.com.au/July 10, 2004

Milwaukee, Wisconsin -- An American school janitor who moonlighted as an evangelical pastor was convicted of child abuse today in the death of an autistic boy during a "makeshift exorcism" ceremony.

Ray Hemphill faces up to five years in jail on the charge and another five on supervised release.

He was arrested in August last year following the death of eight-year-old Terrance Cottrell during a prayer service at a storefront church in Milwaukee in the US Midwestern state of Wisconsin.

The youngster's death came at the end of a bruising two hour prayer service during which Hemphill laid on top of the boy as he sought to expel the youngster's "demons," witnesses told police.

The boy's mother, who had been taking her son to the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith for three weeks, was one of a couple of observers who helped hold the his limbs down as Hemphill ministered him.

But it wasn't until the 46-year-old janitor stood up, dripping in sweat, that anybody in the room noticed that the youngster was not moving, according to witness accounts collected by authorities.

A coroner later ruled the boy died by suffocation "due to external chest compression".

Assistant district attorney Mark Williams told jurors that Hemphill was reckless in his actions that August day.

"He chose to get physical with the boy. There was no reason to do it, and he did it."

Hemphill's lawyer argued that the youngster died because he ingested excessive amounts of prescription medications before the ceremony.

"I'm saying it's the drugs," said Thomas Harris, citing findings from the autopsy report that the eight-year-old had "toxic blood levels of at least two drugs" at the time of his death.

Mr Harris had put a toxicologist on the stand who spoke to the cardiac side effects of one of those drugs, the anti-psychotic ziprasidone. The other drug was an antihistamine.

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