A central Wisconsin couple who prayed rather than seeking medical care for their 11-year-old dying daughter were sentenced Tuesday to six months in jail and 10 years probation in the girl's death.
Dale and Leilani Neumann could have received up to 25 years in prison for second-degree homicide in the March 2008 death of Madeline Neumann, who died of an undiagnosed but treatable form of diabetes.
Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Howard told the Neumanns they were "very good people, raising their family who made a bad decision, a reckless decision."
"God probably works through other people," he told the parents, "some of them doctors."
The case was believed to be the first of its kind in Wisconsin involving faith healing in which someone died and another person was charged with a homicide.
Prosecutors contended the Neumanns recklessly killed their youngest of four children by ignoring obvious symptoms of severe illness as she became too weak to speak, eat, drink or walk. They said the couple had a legal duty to take their daughter to a doctor but relied totally on prayer for healing. The girl, known as Kara, died on the floor of the family's rural Weston home as people surrounded her and prayed. Someone finally called the emergency dispatcher after she stopped breathing.
"We are here today because to some, you made Kara a martyr to your faith," Howard told the parents.
In testimony at trial and videotaped interviews with police, the parents said they believe healing comes from God and that they never expected their daughter to die as they prayed for her and summoned others to do the same. A friend who was at the family's rural Weston home called the emergency dispatcher after the girl stopped breathing.
During the sentencing hearing, Leilani Neumann, 41, told the judge her family is loving and forgiving and has wrongly been portrayed as religious zealots.
"I do not regret trusting truly in the Lord for my daughter's health," she said. "Did we know she had a fatal illness? No. Did we act to the best of our knowledge? Yes."
Dale Neumann, 47, read from the Bible and told the judge that he loved his daughter.
"I am guilty of trusting my Lord's wisdom completely. ... Guilty of asking for heavenly intervention. Guilty of following Jesus Christ when the whole world does not understand. Guilty of obeying my God," he said.
The Neumanns held each other as Howard sentenced them, a Bible on the table nearby and their three teenage children sitting behind them in the front row of the courtroom.
Prosecutors had asked for a three-year suspended prison sentence and 10 years probation. Defense attorneys had sought four years probation.
The judge ordered the couple to serve one month in jail each year for six years so the parents can "think about Kara and what God wants you to learn from this." One parent would serve the term in March and the other in September. Howard stayed the jail sentences while the couple's convictions are appealed.
As part of their probation, the parents must allow a public health nurse to examine their two underage children at least once every three months and must immediately take their children to a doctor for any serious injuries.
Assistant District Attorney LaMont Jacobson said justice was served by the sentences, but he was disappointed the parents never said they were sorry for what happened.
"They allowed Kara to die because they got themselves too caught up in the misguided belief that they were being tested by God," the prosecutor said.
Dale Neumann, who once studied to be a Pentecostal minister, told reporters the couple continues to trust in God.
"We live by faith," he said after the sentencing. "We are completely content with what the Lord has allowed to come down, but he is not done yet."