Christian Science couple's manslaughter conviction overturned

BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Supreme Court Wednesday overturned the manslaughter conviction of a Christian Science couple who relied on prayer alone to treat their ill son before he died.

David and Ginger Twitchell, formerly of Boston, were convicted in 1990 of involuntary manslaughter in the death of their 2 -year-old son, Robyn, who became ill in 1986 due to a bowel obstruction and died five days later. They were sentenced to 10 years probation.


The couple's lawyers argued before the state's high court in May that the conviction should be overturned on constitutional grounds, including the free exercise of their religion.

In accordance with their religious beliefs, the Twitchells did not seek medical attention for the boy, instead relying on prayer.

The Twitchell's attorney, Stephen Lyons, said that under the terms of the probation, the couple was not allowed to raise their other two sons as Christian Scientists. They were also ordered to provide medical care for the children if they become ill.

'But they are unwavering in their faith. They always have been,' Lyons said.

In a 6-1 ruling, the court said the Twitchells were protected by a spiritual healing provision in state law, which states that treatment by spiritual means alone satisfies a parental obligation not to neglect a child.


The court said a jury should have been told that David Twitchell read a church publication concerning their legal rights in Massachusetts while Robyn was ill, evidence the trial judge excluded.

'Evidence showed that the defendants were deeply motivated towards helping their child, while at the same time seeking to practice their religion within the limits of what they were advised that the law permitted,' the court ruled.

A spokeperson for the Suffolk County district attorney's office declined comment on the case, except to say that no decision has been made on a retrial.

The Twitchells, life-long members of the Church of Christ, Scientist, now live in Brentwood, New York.

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