October 6, 2009

Live-blogging the Neumann sentencing

The Wausau Daily Herald is doing it here.

3:56 p.m. [Judge Vincent K.] Howard said there is one God ...
Well, there's your official government endorsement of monotheism. Fortunately the defendants are not Germanic Neopagans. Or atheists. We shall decline from quibbling with Trinitarianism at the moment.
... but people hear many different voices from that God.
Or else just hear voices, period. In their heads. Like the Neumanns.
4:31 p.m. [Judge] Howard has just recommended a withheld sentence and 10 years of probation with conditions.
A withheld sentence, even more lenient than I had predicted. Straight probation, basically, for causing the death of a human being.

Mitigating circumstances: Being a far gone stone religious fanatic.

Those may be the lightest Class D felony sentences in State history. Now go, and cause the death of your helpless children no more. Standing by for lots and lots of people flipping out in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

There's no way they're going to prison today.* They'll get an imposed and stayed prison term, with a lengthy period of probation. And I doubt they'll get the conditional jail time the State will recommend.

Expect to hear a lot of "sincerely held religious beliefs" business from the defense counsel (a legitimate argument, in my view, although it shouldn't be available as a matter of law, especially when those beliefs are as wildly delusional as those of these two defendants).

However, I also doubt the judge will be much impressed with the Neumanns' defiance in the face of the proceedings against them.

They will likely endure a stern tongue-lashing for that. A small price for walking out of the courthouse onto the street a bit later on.

By the way, the Daily Herald has done a fine job covering this case. It's not often that a newspaper live-blogs a sentencing hearing.

* They're both looking at 25 years for the death of their daughter, the cause of which was either Diabetes mellitus Type 1, or the Neumanns, depending on whether you ask a doctor or a lawyer.


Michael O'Hear said...

Thanks for the live-blogging link. This is a fascinating case. I don't disagree with the judge's slap-on-the-wrist sentence. The degree of a defendant's punishment should reflect his blameworthiness, that is, the extent to which he has deliberately chosen to do something that he understands to be harmful or dangerous to others. If the Neumanns sincerely believed that God would cure their daughter, then there is little blame that should be placed on them for choosing not to seek medical attention. I suppose there might be some blameworthiness in the antecedent choice to believe in a God who disapproves of modern medicine, but placing blame on this basis raises large First Amendment concerns.

By the way, the logic here -- prison terms should reserved for people who choose to do things that they understand to present a high risk of harm -- might cast doubt on prison terms for other defendants, including many drug dealers.

In any event, given the state's apparent recognition that a long prison term was inappropriate for the Neumanns, I am mystified why the case was charged as felony homicide. The wide gap between the charge and the sentencing recommendation sends mixed messages, to say the least.

illusory tenant said...

Thanks for dropping by, Professor, and for your comments.

By way of a partial answer to the Class D felony, I would imagine that, for one thing, the State was precluded from charging the offense under Sec. 948 (Crimes Against Children) by § 948.03(6), which provides an affirmative defense for "treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone for healing."

And I think the defense filed a pretrial motion to dismiss the felony charge based on the foregoing exemption, which was denied.