A Jackson County jury awarded $108 million Friday in a civil trial stemming from a Lee’s Summit woman’s infection-related death in 2007 following a failed home delivery that lasted four days.
Gail and Darrell Mansfield of Kingsville, Mo. brought the wrongful death lawsuit, alleging that members of a religious group botched the delivery of their daughter’s stillborn child, allegedly used unsterilized scissors in an attempt to deliver the infant, and then kept her from receiving medical attention over the following month.
The child, Sydney, died Dec. 6, 2006.
The Mansfields’ daughter, Misty Mansfield, died 31 days later when blood poisoning and infection reached her heart and uterus, according to the death certificate.
The Jackson County prosecutor at the time investigated Mansfield’s death and found insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone had prevented Mansfield from seeking medical help.
The civil suit alleged that defendants told Mansfield it was normal for delivery to last for four or five days, ignored “clear physical signs” that her infant was breech, and at one point cut Mansfield’s vagina with unsterilized household scissors.
Danny Thomas, representing the Mansfields, described the defendants as cult leaders who isolated and brainwashed their members, including Misty Mansfield.
“I’ve never seen a case where the liability is so clear,” Thomas said during his closing statements. “I have never seen people so delusional, so arrogant.”
The defendants, Thomas added, “cut her with a pair of ditry household scissors…Who in the world are these people?”
iWhile he conceded that the defendants’ financial resources remained unclear, Thomas added that he wanted to “send a message” that the defendants needed to be held accountable.
Thomas also said that John Horner, a defendant he identified as the group’s leader, needed to be stopped.
“What an absolute sociopath,” Thomas said, later urging the jury to “Put him out of business.”
John Horner, like the other defendants, represented himself during the trial. His brother, Caleb Horner, was married to the victim, though her family claimed it was not a legal marriage.
On Friday John Horner told jury members that he had discovered a personal manner of living, involving natural foods as well as a fervent Christian faith, that had kept him free of illness for more than 12 years. He felt compelled, he added, to share this discovery with others.
“That’s all I ever did,” he said. “I said ‘Here is what I found...’”
A jury verdict that would find him negligent, he added, could result in a chilling effect on religious Americans who want to share their faith with others.
“Do we want America to be that way?” Horner asked. “Will people in this country still have the right to believe what they want to believe?”
Horner also told jury members that the plaintiffs’ lawyers had failed to establish a direct link from him and the other defendants to the infection that killed Misty Mansfield. He denied, Horner added, that he prevented Mansfield “from making a fully informed decision.”
Horner’s brother, Caleb, described in the lawsuit as having married Misty Mansfield in a religious ceremony, told jury members that he had cut Mansfield’s vagina in an effort to expedite the delivery of the child.
“Did I cut Misty?’ asked Caleb Horner. ”Yes.“
But, he added, ”I did what I believe what had to be done to save the life of my child.“
Caleb Horner also stood up for the preservation of individual religious rights. During a 10-year career as a police officer, he said, he often had seen individuals decline treatment or transport to a hospital. ”I knew they had that right,“ he said.
In that same way, he added, ”Misty made choices. Some didn’t line up with those that her friends and family believe.“
Caleb Horner is a former Lee’s Summit police officer later fired by the department.
He filed a lawsuit in federal court in January alleging he was terminated because of his religious beliefs, but the case has been dismissed. ——— ©2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com Distributed by MCT Information Services AMX-2012-12-21T18:11:00-05:00