Born to Believe

Page 3 of 9

The paramedics struggled to revive the baby. But Warren Trevette Glory was dead. Not once had Mindy or Josh Glory, or their parents, or their friends, or any of the other visitors who came and went from that trailer during the eighteen days that the infant lived ever called a doctor or even considered calling a doctor. Yet according to the coroner, the infant's troubles stemmed from bacterial pneumonia that could have been readily treated with antibiotics.

Mindy later told investigators she hadn't thought there was anything seriously wrong with her son. But even if she had known how desperately ill he was, she said, "I still would have called for the elders of our church."

Frank Daniels, the Mesa County district attorney, was deeply troubled by the Glory case. A prosecutor for eighteen years, he was accustomed to dealing with hardened criminals -- not law-abiding young people such as Mindy and Josh. "We're used to prosecuting bad guys for doing bad things," he says. "When a guy holds up a convenience store with a gun, you know a bad guy did that. Here we have people committing acts for good reasons and getting bad results."

The case touched on several fundamental rights: parental autonomy and the right to practice one's religion freely versus the state's duty to protect children from harm and the rights of children themselves to adequate medical care. "It's a friction between mandates," says Daniels, the father of four and a member of the Episcopalian Church. "I think I have a mandate to protect children, and they have a mandate to pray."

One factor that tilted heavily toward a criminal prosecution was the finding of Dr. Robert Kurtzman, a forensic pathologist and the Mesa County coroner who performed Warren Glory's autopsy. Kurtzman concluded that the child had suffered from bacterial pneumonia that subsequently led to bacterial meningitis and severe dehydration. Meningitis, he said, often develops when pneumonia goes untreated and the bacteria from the lungs spread to the brain through the bloodstream.

Even though Josh and Mindy thought their child had been eating, Kurtzman found that Warren's stomach, small intestine and large intestine were empty, indicating no recent consumption of food. Because the parents should have recognized the life-threatening condition and failed to seek medical attention, Kurtzman ruled the infant's death a homicide. In blunt language, he wrote, "The death of this infant is a direct consequence of the caretaker's failure to seek medical care in an easily recognized life endangering condition."

After Kurtzman made his ruling, Frank Daniels began doing some research. It turned out that law-enforcement officials in Mesa County and other Colorado counties had been grappling with the same dilemma for decades. In Cortez, several children whose parents belonged to the First Born Church had died of diphtheria in the mid-1970s after their parents forbade them to be immunized. In 1982, Travis Drake, a fourteen-year-old from Grand Junction, died of a ruptured appendix. And in nearby Delta County, Lukas Long, a day-old baby, had died in 1987. But the case that Daniels found the most shocking was the one involving Angela Sweet. The morgue photographs showed a severely emaciated child with a swollen abdomen. "I've never seen anything like those photos," he says.

David and Barbara Sweet were members of the First Assembly and Church of the First Born. According to Montrose County Sheriff's Department investigative reports, their daughter Angela had become ill sometime in early May 1990. The principal of Olathe Elementary School had contacted the Department of Social Services after the child failed to show up for school for eight days. The principal had heard conflicting stories about Angela's illness; some people had told her the child was not sick and was simply staying home, but others said the little girl was very ill. The principal finally called Angela's parents herself. Angela has the flu, they told her.

A social worker subsequently made three visits to the Sweet home. A public-health nurse accompanied her on at least one of those occasions. Instead of asking to examine Angela, the nurse "just stood back and asked her (Mrs. Sweet) questions about Angela's health," a sheriff's investigator noted.

The Sweets were convinced Angela had the flu because her sister, who was two years older, had been sick with the flu around the same time. Barbara Sweet put cold compresses on Angela's forehead and made her drink lots of fluids and eat soft foods. But the child did not appear to improve. One of Angela's first-grade classmates saw her outside a baseball game about two weeks before she died; Angela was sitting in the backseat of her parents' car and didn't have much to say. "Angela looked like she had been, or was, sick and looked like she had lost some weight," the schoolmate's parents later told deputies. On June 27, nearly two months after Angela had come down with the 'flu,' she died.

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Eileen Welsome