A California Christian Scientist, Laurie Walker, was found guilty in Sacramento Thursday of involuntary manslaughter as part of a settlement agreement. Ms. Walker was charged after her 4-year-old daughter, Shauntay, died in 1984 of what was later diagnosed as meningitis. The mother had turned to prayer to treat the girl instead of conventional medicine.
In the settlement, Walker, her attorneys, and Sacramento assistant chief deputy district attorney John O'Mara agreed to submit the question of guilt or innocence to a superior court judge, who would make a determination based on the evidence presented at a preliminary hearing in September 1984. Under California law, this arrangement will enable Walker to appeal her conviction. Defense lawyer Thomas Volk is preparing the appeal.
The procecution also agreed to drop a charge of felony child endangerment.
The settlement calls for Walker to receive a sentence of two- to four-years' probation, a $300fine, and up to 600 hours of community service. It also provides that another daughter, who is now a teenager, be allowed to choose between medical treatment and Christian Science prayer. Sentencing is set for July 31.
Christian Science church officials say it is normal for children of Christian Scientists to choose the form of treatment they prefer.
``We're grateful that...Laurie Walker no longer has the ordeal of a trial in front of her,'' said Victor Westberg, church spokesman for northern California. ``While Christian Scientists respect profoundly the rule of law, they are troubled that this decision was made without a just appreciation of the effect of Christian Science care.''
``Obviously, the practice of spiritual healing has come under harsh criticism in recent years,'' Mr. Westberg said. ``Yet it continues to mean a great deal to us - not because of blind religious devotion, but because so many of us have had credible experience with such healing in our families.''