Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Minister guilty in exorcism case that killed autistic boy


A minister was found guilty of abusing an 8-year-old autistic boy who died in what prosecutors called an exorcism at a storefront church.

Prosecutors said Ray Hemphill laid on the boy's chest for at least an hour while trying to release "demons" from him. Hemphill's attorney said his client was only trying to help Terrance Cottrell, and that the boy died after an overdose of medication.

Jurors found Hemphill, 46, guilty Friday of a felony charge of physical abuse of a child recklessly causing great bodily harm.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Sentencing was set for Aug. 17.

Cottrell died last August at Hemphill's Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith. The medical examiner ruled the boy suffocated. Authorities said Hemphill pinned Cottrell during what prosecutors called an exorcism but his attorney said was a prayer service.

Prosecutor Mark Williams said witness statements -- including those from Hemphill himself and Cottrell's mother -- showed Hemphill laid on the boy for at least an hour, even as the child struggled.

"He knew he was hurting that child," Williams said in his closing arguments Friday. "The child was struggling for his life."

Williams said Hemphill had no schooling in ministry and no experience in exorcism, "but he was doing it here."

Autism is a complex developmental disorder best known for impairing a child's ability to communicate and interact with others.

Thomas Harris, Hemphill's attorney, called the trial a government attempt "to equate a church-sanctioned service participated [in] by the child's mother as a criminal conduct."

According to a criminal complaint, Hemphill had known Cottrell and his mother, Pat Cooper, for a few months before the boy died, and the mother and son were church members.

The church's founder, David Hemphill, testified he ordained his brother without formal training, and said his brother had a talent for healing through casting out demons.

On Friday, Harris emphasized the high level of an anti-psychotic drug in Cottrell's body, saying that was the primary cause of death. He said Hemphill didn't know Cottrell was on medication, a point the prosecution disputed.

Harris said he was disappointed by the verdict, but expressed condolences on behalf of his client to Cottrell's family.

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