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Friday, September 18 2020 @ 10:26 PM CDT

Belief in Mythology over Science

Whited Sepulchers

Witness says Wis. mother thought illness was sin


A mother accused of rejecting medical treatment and relying on prayer as her 11-year-old daughter died of untreated diabetes believed people got sick because they sinned, a former friend said Tuesday at the woman's homicide trial.

Althea Wormgoor and her husband described praying with Leilani Neumann and her family in Madeline Neumann's last hours, a scene that turned to chaos and tearful pleas to heaven when the girl stopped breathing.

Leilani Neumann also attributed sickness to demons, Wormgoor testified. She said that when one of her sons got sick, Neumann thought his vomiting was to rid his body of demons.

"That was a little much," Wormgoor testified.

Neumann, 41, has been charged with second-degree reckless homicide in Madeline's March 23, 2008, death at the family's rural Weston home.

Prosecutors contend a reasonable parent would have known something was gravely wrong with Madeline, who had become so weak she couldn't walk or talk. They say Neumann recklessly killed her daughter by praying instead of rushing her to a doctor.

The mother has said the family believes in the Bible, which says healing comes from God. The defense has said Neumann and her husband, who is awaiting trial, didn't know how sick their daughter was until it was too late.

Wormgoor told the jury that Neumann didn't believe in doctors or medicine.

"Basically, you pray and do nothing but pray," she said. Wormgoor added, however, that Neumann once asked her for an aspirin to treat a headache.

Wormgoor, who has four children, testified that her family moved from California to Wisconsin in January 2008 to start a second coffee business with the Neumanns and participate in their weekly Bible studies. The Neumanns also had lived in California, and the families had known each other for years.

But Wormgoor said that by March 2008, she and her husband had realized they disagreed with the Neumanns about the business and faith healing.

Wormgoor said she would not have let one of her daughters get as sick as Madeline without getting medical help.

Wormgoor said she and her family went to the Neumanns' home the day Madeline died. Leilani Neumann had urged them to come, saying Madeline was on the floor, not talking, eating or drinking, she said.

The Wormgoors prayed with the Neumanns. Leilani Neumann raised her hands in the air, calling her daughter's illness a test of faith and a chance for God to show his power, Wormgoor said.

"'Oh Lord, you can heal diabetes. You can heal cancer,'" Wormgoor said Neumann prayed. "'I am praying that God is going to bring her back from this and make her 10 times better.'"

After about five minutes of prayer, Leilani Neumann indicated her daughter appeared better than the previous night, her breathing stronger, Wormgoor said.

Suddenly, Madeline's mouth "twitched," she said.

"To me, it looked like she was gasping for air," Wormgoor said. "It was a twitch that scared me. You are telling me, is she getting better? But right then I am not seeing it. I panicked."

Wormgoor rushed to call 911, but her husband got to a phone first and made the call.

Randall Wormgoor testified that he had urged Neumann's husband, Dale, to take Madeline to a hospital.

"I said, 'Dale, if that was my daughter, I would be taking her to a doctor," Randall Wormgoor said. "He said at some point, 'Don't you think it has crossed my mind.'"

Randall Wormgoor said he tried to reason with Dale Neumann, saying God worked through doctors just as the Neumanns worked through their coffee business to try to do their ministry. But then chaos broke out as word spread that Madeline was not breathing.

As the girl was being rushed to an ambulance, the mother remarked that all she needed was fluids, attendant Jason Russ testified.

Dr. Ivan Sador, a diabetes expert at Marshfield Clinic who examined medical records and police reports, said Madeline would have had high blood sugar levels for two months and organ damage three or four days before she died.

"Absolutely noticeable" symptoms of serious trouble became evident 24 hours before she died, and the girl became "very, very uncomfortable," the doctor said.

Still, Madeline's life could have been saved "very late into the day of her death" with the proper treatment, the doctor said.

If convicted, Leilani Neumann faces up to 25 years in prison. Dale Neumann also has been charged with second-degree reckless homicide. His trial is set for July.

Testimony in Leilani Neumann's trial was to resume Wednesday.

Salon provides breaking news articles from the Associated Press as a service to its readers, but does not edit the AP articles it publishes.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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