Caleb Horner was a self-described religious man who allegedly told superiors inside the Lee’s Summit Police Department that they ‘couldn’t touch’ him.
Not only was Horner dismissed from the force after his wife died following a botched home birth in 2007, but nearly five years later a Jackson County jury has found Horner and his religious followers responsible for the death of Misty Horner.
The jury returned a unanimous $108 million verdict Dec. 21 to Gail and Darrel Mansfield, the parents of Misty Horner. Although criminal charges were never filed due to a lack of evidence, the Mansfield family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Horner and his followers alleging that they brainwashed Misty Horner and caused her to suffer a painful death following a botched home birth.
The jury found Caleb Horner to be 45 percent at fault. His brother, John Horner, was found 35 percent at fault, and their sister, Amber Leathers-Horner, was found 20 percent at fault.
Attempts to reach Caleb Horner for comment were unsuccessful.
“Will they ever see the full $108 million? No,” said Danny Thomas, a personal injury attorney with Humphrey, Farrington & McClain who represented the Mansfield family. Thomas spoke with the Journal via telephone Dec. 26. “But what we will do – and what I told the Horners what we will do – is as soon as the judgment is final we will begin execution on all of their property, garnishing and liens and we will force them to liquidate everything. For every penny they earn for the rest of their lives they’re going to be writing a check to the Mansfields.”
According to Thomas, Horner claimed to be an apostle of his self-created church which promotes prayer to heal the sick and shuns all modern medicine. Misty Horner’s parents were able to show that their daughter was brainwashed by Caleb Horner and his followers, which taught that women should be submissive to their husbands and that medical intervention is a sin against God.
“Horner and his followers convinced Misty to have an at-home birth,” Thomas said Dec.23 shortly after the judgment was announced. “They prevented her from getting any prenatal care including vitamins or sonograms, even upon learning the baby was breech.”
The Horners’ baby, Sydney, died of asphyxiation during what Thomas described as a gruesome four-day labor and delivery which culminated with Caleb Horner performing an episiotomy on his wife with a pair of unsterilized household scissors.
Over the course of the next 31 days, Caleb Horner and his followers kept family, friends, medical and police personnel away from Misty Horner as the cuts to her vagina became infected. The infection and sepsis spread throughout Misty Horner’s body as her husband and his followers performed faith healing and prayer rituals. Misty Horner tried to seek medical attention on numerous occasions, Thomas said, but Caleb Horner and his followers continuously prevented any such intervention. Thomas also contends the Horners were never officially married and did not possess a marriage license.
A doctor testified at trial that the deaths of Misty Horner and her child were unnecessary and preventable. The jury also found that Misty Horner had no fault for her own death.
The Lee’s Summit Police Department also fired Horner for failing to call for emergency help.
“Before Misty died her parents begged Caleb to call for help,” Thomas said. “He refused. They (LSPD) warned him that if she died they would hold him accountable. He smiled at them and said ‘I’ve researched it. You can’t touch me.’”
Caleb Horner and his co-defendants claimed that the infection was not their fault and that Misty Horner died because she adhered to her sincerely-held religious beliefs. The award consisted of $8.65 million in actual damages and $100 million in punitive damages, which is more than Misty Horner’s parents asked for.
“This is absolutely the most challenging case I’ve ever dealt with,” Thomas said. “I’ve been trying cases for 10 years and I’ve never lost my composure in front of a jury emotionally. There was a time when I had Mr. Mansfield on the stand and he was sharing memories of his daughter and I just couldn’t get through it. It was very emotional and it was gruesome at times. The fact that these people used Scripture to manipulate people really strikes a chord, not only with me, but obviously with the jury.”
Prior to trial, co-defendant Wendy Nield Horner’s insurance company settled all claims against her for $300,000.
The other three defendants represented themselves in the case, Thomas said.
“It was a choice they made,” Thomas said of the defendants’ legal representation. “They are very arrogant people.”