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Washington v. Norman

as corrected.: April 23, 1991.


Shields, A.c.j. Munson and Thompson, JJ., concur.

Author: Shields

Bobbie Dan Norman was convicted of first degree manslaughter for his refusal to provide medical care for his son, Aaron, which resulted in Aaron's death. Mr. Norman appeals, contending: (1) his actions were protected under the freedom of religion clause in the Washington State Constitution; (2) the court erred in its instructions to the jury; and (3) he received ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm.

Mr. Norman and his wife, Judy, were members of a religious group known as the "No-Name Fellowship". The leaders of the group, known as "elders", were primarily Doug Kleber, who spent the majority of time in Illinois where he "spearheaded" another fellowship, and Jeff Siegel, who led the Spokane group. Both men, former athletes, were in their early thirties and had no formal religious training. The members of the group were taught only men could have positions of authority in the church, husbands ruled the households, and wives were to be totally submissive to their husbands. The members were also taught God spoke through the elders; therefore, failure to believe the word of the elders was a failure to believe the word of God. The members were taught to consult the elders whenever they had to make basic day-to-day decisions: whether to accept a job, purchase a car, or seek medical care.

During the 7 years the Normans were members of the group, the teachings became more rigid. Spanking became routine as a means of getting "right with God." All physical illness was thought to be caused by sin. Members were taught the medical establishment was "wicked" and members should rely on God to heal them. Members were basically taught to pray first, and then seek medical care as a

last resort.*fn1 Members were also taught that, as parents, they bore the primary responsibility for their children.

On Wednesday, December 16, 1987, Mr. and Ms. Norman noticed their 10-year-old son, Aaron, had begun losing weight and was drinking water and urinating excessively. Mr. Norman brought this to the attention of the leaders, including Mr. Kleber (visiting from Illinois), who prayed for Aaron during the Wednesday night church service. Several of the members suspected Aaron had diabetes, and one member informed Ms. Norman of this. She passed this information along to Mr. Norman.*fn2 Several members also informed Mr. Kleber and Mr. Siegel of their suspicions, but neither elder informed Mr. Norman. By Friday, December 18, Aaron began vomiting. Mr. Norman again called Mr. Kleber and Mr. Siegel, who, with other church leaders, went to the Norman house. Mr. Kleber determined the sin which was causing Aaron's illness was Ms. Norman's lack of submissiveness to her husband. Mr. Kleber therefore instructed Mr. Norman to spank her. Mr. Norman complied. Mr. Kleber also spanked Ms. Norman with Mr. Norman's acquiescence. On Saturday, Aaron's condition worsened. Mr. Norman again called Mr. Kleber, who, with Mr. Siegel and the other church leaders, again went to the Norman house. This time Mr. Kleber, Mr. Siegel and the church leaders decided it was Aaron who must be sinning. They had a "revelation" that the sin involved was masturbation. After they explained to Aaron what that term meant, Aaron denied it. Mr. Norman decided Aaron needed to be "spanked." After he spanked Aaron in a "frustrated" and "desperate" fashion, Mr. Kleber stepped in and demonstrated how to spank Aaron in a "controlled" manner. Mr. Norman then decided to spank Aaron with a wooden

paddle. He spanked Aaron with the paddle over 14 times.*fn3 After an hour of intense interrogation and spanking, Aaron finally "confessed." At the end of this "ministering", Mr. Kleber suggested Mr. Norman take Aaron to the hospital, and stated the church would support Mr. Norman if he made that decision. Mr. Norman refused, stating he would take Aaron to the hospital if his condition worsened. Throughout the night, Aaron's condition did in fact worsen. Mr. Norman continued slapping Aaron and calling Mr. Kleber for guidance. Mr. Kleber assured Mr. Norman that Aaron would be all right. By morning Aaron was dead. He was completely emaciated and weighed only 46 pounds. It was determined he died of untreated juvenile diabetes. At trial, the unrefuted medical testimony was Aaron's condition was exacerbated by the spankings, and Aaron could have survived had he received medical attention as late as Saturday.

Most of Mr. Norman's trial focused on the control the elders and leaders of the group had on its members. Several former members testified they experienced "mind control" and were "brainwashed". Mr. Siegel contended the members were not "controlled" or "brainwashed", but rather were "influenced" and operated under a "deception." He contended Mr. Norman was influenced, but not controlled. Other former leaders likewise testified the members were not controlled, but had freedom of choice. To substantiate this claim, one of the leaders testified to his knowledge of a long list of former members who had voluntarily left the church, including the Normans' two older sons, Dan and Chris. Mr. Kleber contended he did not control people, he just had a "strong intense kind of personality". He claimed Mr. Norman was free to make his own choices. In addition, several of the former members who stated they felt "controlled" admitted they could have disobeyed the leaders or

voluntarily left the organization. Mr. Norman likewise admitted he had control over his own actions and was responsible for them.

It was also revealed Mr. Norman was a deacon in the church, but aspired to be elevated to the position of an elder. In order to do that, he had to have his "house in order": his wife had to be submissive and his children had to be in control. One witness testified Mr. Norman wanted "to please the elders of the church in every way he could." The jury found Mr. Norman guilty of first degree manslaughter.*fn4

Mr. Norman first contends his conviction violates Const. art. 1, § 11.*fn5 He argues our constitution needs to be interpreted in the context of the common law which existed at the time of its adoption, and under that common law parents could not be convicted of manslaughter for refusing to render medical aid to their children because of their religious beliefs. He relies on Regina v. Wagstaffe, 10 Cox Crim. Cas. 530 (1868). He further claims Const. art. 1, § 11 provides greater protection than the United States Constitution; therefore, cases involving freedom of religion under the federal law are inapplicable to the case at hand.

[1] A brief history of medical science in relation to religion is in order. Medical science was founded in Greece at least 500 years before the Christian era. After the adoption of Christianity by Rome and the conversion of Europe, "curing" illnesses by the interposition of Divine power commenced and was continued throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. ...

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