Faith healer charged in Loudon girl's death dies

Legal issues in neglect case still linger

By Bob Fowler

LOUDON The self-described "spiritual father" of a girl who died of a rare cancer and who convinced the girl's mother to rely on faith-healing instead of medical treatment has died.

The thorny constitutional issues spawned by the high-profile Loudon County case, however, live on.

District Attorney General Russell Johnson said his office received word Monday of the death of Ariel Ben Sherman in Mauldin, S.C.

Sherman gained notoriety in East Tennessee when he and Jacqueline Crank rejected medical treatment and opted instead for prayer in a bid to heal Crank's 15-year-old daughter.

Jessica Crank died in September 2002, and Sherman and Jacqueline Crank were at first charged with felony child neglect.

The Loudon County case has since featured numerous appeals and other legal maneuvers. "We have four boxes (of documents) on this case," said Deputy District Attorney General Frank Harvey.

Aspects of the case made their way through the appellate court and up to the state's Supreme Court before being sent back to Loudon County Criminal Court.

Sherman and Jacqueline Crank were found guilty last May in Loudon County Criminal Court of misdemeanor neglect for the teen's death and were placed on probation.

Attorneys for Sherman and Crank earlier this month filed a joint appellate brief with the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, which is expected to hear arguments next year.

One legal argument ended with Sherman's death whether Sherman owed a legal duty of care to the teen.

Still up before the appellate court to decide is whether the state's spiritual exemption law that allows parents to forego medical treatment in favor of faith healing is in violation of the U.S. Constitution and its equal protection guarantees.

"These are major constitutional issues," Harvey said, "and everybody involved is anxiously awaiting what the court says on these issues."

Sherman's tangles with the law and his career as a leader of religious sects didn't start in Loudon County.

Criminal Court records in Polk County, Ore., show he was charged in 1985 with three counts of criminal mistreatment and two counts of fourth-degree assault.

Those charges, dismissed seven years later, allegedly involved abuse of children in a religious commune he had established in West Salem, Ore.