Couple would use prayer again

The Daily Journal, Indiana/July 22, 2005
By Michael W. Hoskins

Parents Dewayne and Maleta Schmidt want to stay out of prison so they are not separated from their two children.

But while the couple say they would follow any court orders issued, both said Thursday they do not believe choosing prayer instead of medical care for their sick newborn daughter was wrong, and they said they would make the same decision if a similar situation ever arose.

For that reason, the prosecution wants a prison sentence imposed. The rural Franklin couple’s attorney is asking they receive probation and monitoring from a child welfare worker.

The Schmidts and four relatives and family friends asked Judge Cynthia Emkes for lenience Thursday in Johnson Superior Court 2, but the couple must wait until Aug. 12 to learn their sentence, which could range from two years of probation to eight years in prison.

Dewayne Schmidt, 35, and Maleta Schmidt, 30, were convicted in May in the death of their daughter, Rhianna Rose Schmidt, who died Aug. 19, 2003, 31 hours after her birth, from a blood infection typically treated with antibiotics.

On May 12, a jury convicted the couple of reckless homicide for failing to seek medical care for their daughter.

The Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office argues that anything less than incarceration would not send a message that this is a crime and should not happen again.

“Probation is too light,” deputy prosecutor Daylon Welliver said. “The length is not the issue as much as that we need to try and impose a sentence that sends out a message that what they did was wrong.”

The Schmidts’ attorney, Carrie Miles, said the couple are seeking to be productive members of the community.

“These are rule-following, law-abiding people,” she said.

Prosecutors argued the Schmidts acted recklessly because they knew the risk of infection, were aware of the baby’s troubled first hours after birth and that medical treatment was available.

The parents testified during the trial that Rhianna stopped breathing and turned blue three times in the hours following her birth at home.

Dewayne Schmidt called church elders to pray for their daughter, and each time they saw what they considered a recovery, they testified.

Emkes told jurors religion could not be used as a defense in the case but could be used to show the Schmidts did not act recklessly or ignore their daughter’s situation.

By calling church elders to pray, the Schmidts acted by seeking help based on their beliefs, they did not act recklessly and did not realize their child might die, their attorney said.

At times before her death, the couple felt so confident about Rhianna’s health that they gave her a bath, laughed with family and friends in the home and went about other household tasks.

The husband and wife went to bed believing their daughter was in good health and were shocked to learn less than two hours later she had died.

“Putting them away as an example will not scatter the church or make them (the Schmidts) change their opinions,” said Stan White, a church friend who has agreed to move into the Schmidt home and monitor the welfare of the children. “I think exactly the opposite. This won’t change their beliefs, but they’ll abide by the rules.”

To show they would obey the rules, Dewayne pointed out how he explained the couple’s religious beliefs to the deputy who came to their house following Rhianna’s death, but stepped aside and allowed the police to do their job even though he objected.

Following the conviction, prosecuting attorneys asked that their other two children be ordered to receive medical care if needed. The judge stopped short of granting the request but appointed a guardian to notify the court about possible health concerns.

A court-appointed case worker has met with the Schmidts twice since May, including a surprise visit, a report submitted by the case worker said. She described both children as healthy and well-taken care of, the report said.

The Schmidts promised to obey the law and follow whatever sentence they receive, they said Thursday.

“I thought we lived in a country where I had freedom of religion, but I’ve come to realize it’s only if it agrees with everyone else’s,” Maleta Schmidt said. “I can’t believe it ever came to this.”

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