New baby death in faith-healing congregation

Indianapolis Star/June 7, 2005

Martinsville, Ind. – Police are investigating the death of a premature baby whose parents belong to a church that preaches reliance on faith and prayer for healing.

Sarah Leeman died Saturday. She was born May 28 at the home of her parents, Louis and Patricia Leeman, Martinsville.

The Leemans told police the baby’s condition deteriorated in the week after her birth, Martinsville Police Capt Jeff Buskirk said today. He would not release the cause of death.

The Leemans belong to the General Assembly and Church of the First Born at Morgantown. In May, a Johnson County jury found another couple from the church guilty of reckless homicide for refusing to seek medical treatment to help their gravely ill newborn daughter in 2003.

“We’re looking right now into what happened,” Buskirk said “If there was anything preventable. And if there was, if there was any neglect involved.”

Church elder Thomas Nation said today that family and church members gathered to pray for the child who seemed to be improving late last week before her condition worsened.

Nation said the parents called 911 when the baby developed severe breathing problems.

Nation says church members are directed by Scripture to live by their faith and not use doctors.

The Leemans had another infant daughter who was stillborn on July 23, 2002. The current investigation will not look into that earlier death, Buskirk said.

Reliance on prayer does not make church members immune from prosecution.

In some neglect cases, Indiana law allows religious conviction as a defense. But in 1986, the Indiana Supreme Court made a distinction between child neglect that results in serious injury and neglect that results in a child's death.

Following their conviction in May, Maleta Schmidt, 30, and Dewayne Schmidt, 35, rural Franklin, each face up to eight years in prison when they are sentenced July 21.

They never sought medical assistance or treatment. An autopsy showed the baby, Rhianna Rose Schmidt, died on Oct. 19, 2003 of sepsis, a blood infection contracted at birth -- an infection that could have been cured easily, a doctor testified.

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 turned to prayer and the elders of the General Assembly and Church of the First Born to heal her

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