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Controversial Trial Nearing Conclusion

Christian Scientist Couple Charged With Manslaughter of Child


The case against a Christian Science couple charged with recklessly causing their child's death is one of "speculation, exaggeration and distortion," defense attorney Rikki Klieman told a jury yesterday as the Twitchell trial entered its final stage.

After a morning of closing arguments by Klieman and Special Prosecutor John Kiernan, the jury began deliberations over whether lifelong Christian Scientists David and Ginger Twitchell are guilty of involuntary manslaughter for relying solely on prayer to heal their two-and-a-half year old son.

While the state was not out for "a pound of flesh," Kiernan aid the Twitchells must be held accountable for not seeking medical help for their son, Robyn, who died on April 8, 1986, after a five-day illness. An autopsy showed he suffered from a bowel obstruction.

I don't suggest for a moment these parents intended to kill their child," Kiernan told a Suffolk Superior Court jury. "But they intentionally did things that caused his death."

Klieman conceded that the Twitchells made a "mistake," but that they did not deserve conviction.

Today, with hindsight, David Twitchell "would not wait one day [to seek medical treatment] if he thought his son was in a life-threatening situation," Klieman said.

The jury began deliberations late Monday afternoon after an hour of instruction by Judge Sandra Hamlin.

During closing arguments, the defense and the prosectuion returned to themes presented in two months of testimony by medical experts, emergency personnel, Christian Science practitioners and former neighbors of the Twitchells.

Key issues have been the seerity of Robyn's symptoms, his time of death, his parents' actions in calling in Christian Science practitoners whether the Christian Science Church allows medical treatment when treatment fails.

Klieman made an emotional appeal to the jury to reject the notion that the Twitchells were uncaring parents who callously treated Robyn's dead body "like garbage."

Klieman nreiterated that witnesses who saw Robyn from April 3 to April 7 said the boy was clearly sick, but his life did not appear to be threatened.

Holding up a photo, entered into evidence as having been taken April 5, 1986, Klieman said, "This child does not look seriously ill. The child was dead three days later."

Klieman disputed the prosecution's claim that Robyn's bowel obstruction, which was caused by a birth defect, could have been easily diagnosed and treated. Rather, the bowel can twist and untwist, making diagnosis difficult, she said.

"If it can fool a doctor, it can fool any parent and it certainly can fool parents who rely on spiritual healing because it gets worse, it gets better," Klieman said.

Kiernan said parents have a millenium-old obligation to protect their children.

What he termed the Twitchell's "unabashed, unbridled arrogance" made the obviously suffering little boy a martyr to their belief that prayer alone could heal.

"This little boy was sacrificed for his own parents' intellectual purity," he said.

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