Jury convicts parents in baby's death

Johnson County couple testified they turned to church elders instead of doctors when newborn was ill.

Indianapolis Star/May 14, 2005
By Paul Bird

A Johnson County jury found a husband and wife guilty of reckless homicide for refusing to seek medical treatment for their gravely ill newborn daughter.

The infant died about 31 hours after her birth.

Maleta Schmidt, 30, and Dewayne Schmidt, 35, of rural Franklin, each face up to eight years in prison.

The jury of nine women and three men reached their verdict about 5:45 p.m. Thursday, nearly six and one-half hours after deliberations began.

Johnson Superior Court Judge Cynthia Emkes ordered a court appointed guardian to oversee the medical welfare of the Schmidts' two other children.

The Schmidts were indicted by a grand jury in connection with the Oct. 19, 2003, death of Rhianna Rose Schmidt.

What the Schmidts did to help their critically ill daughter was not disputed at trial. They never sought medical assistance or treatment. An autopsy showed Rhianna died of sepsis, a blood infection contracted at birth -- an infection a doctor testified could have been cured easily.

Rhianna did not breathe for 38 minutes after birth, Maleta Schmidt testified. The infant stopped breathing three other times.

The Schmidts testified that in each instance, they did something for their daughter: they turned to prayer and the elders of the General Assembly and Church of the First Born to heal her.

General Assembly and Church of the First Born members have said its members are free to seek medical assistance.

But other children associated with the church have died from lack of medical assistance.

In 1999, 12-year-old Bradley Glenn Hamm of Indiana died from untreated pneumonia. Bradley was the second of three children of Wesley and Laronda Hamm to die. Another child died in Arkansas. Criminal charges were not filed in those cases.

After their third child died in California, criminal charges were brought. The Hamms are serving a prison term in California after pleading guilty to child neglect leading to death.

In her closing argument Thursday, the Schmidt's attorney, Carrie Miles, characterized the case as a church vs. state issue.

If jurors convicted the Schmidts, she said, they would be saying there is freedom of religion -- "as long as you agree with the state."

Deputy Prosecutor Matt Solomon told jurors faith is not an excuse.

"Religious beliefs are not a free pass," Solomon said in his closing argument.

After the verdict was announced, Miles said she was disappointed, but respected the jury's decision.

"We put our faith in the jury," she said.

After the court session, Maleta and Dewayne Schmidt and Miles huddled in the courtroom. About 40 supporters stood and waited in silence 10 minutes before Dewayne Schmidt turned to them and said he appreciated their support and that he loved them.

Schmidt invited the entire group to meet at Miles' Franklin office after leaving the court.

The Schmidts were released while awaiting sentencing July 21.

Miles would not address the possibility of an appeal, saying she would wait to see what sentence Emkes hands down.

"I would hope for a suspended sentence," Miles said. "These are the people you want as a next-door neighbor."

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