Trial begins for religious sect accused of killing child

Members of an Australian religious group have gone on trial accused of killing an eight-year-old diabetic girl by denying her medical care.

Elizabeth Struhs was found dead at a home in Toowoomba – about 125km (78 miles) west of Brisbane – in January 2022, after she had allegedly gone without insulin for almost a week.

Prosecutors say members of a sect, known as The Saints, prayed that God would cure the child, rather than seeking help as her health deteriorated.

The girl’s parents are among 14 defendants, all of whom have elected to represent themselves in the highly publicised and highly unusual case.

Two men – Elizabeth’s father Jason Struhs, 52, and the religious group’s leader Brendan Stevens, 62 – have been charged with murder, with prosecutors saying they encouraged or instructed the other members of the group.

The girl’s mother, Kerrie Struhs, 49, brother Zachary Struhs, 21, and ten others – aged 22 to 67 – are accused of manslaughter.

As the trial began at the Brisbane Supreme Court on Wednesday, the group filed in one by one, to take their allocated positions in a courtroom specifically modified to fit them all.

The dock, where defendants usually sit in a criminal trial, was too small. So the men, dressed in prison khakis, and the women, in blue uniforms, sat at two long tables.

The group have refused lawyers, and all have refused to enter pleas on the charges. Formally, the court considers that a plea of not guilty.

Due to the complexity and notoriety of the case, the trial will be heard by a judge only – no jury – and is expected to last for around three months.

When opening her case, prosecutor Caroline Marco said Elizabeth had been an “intelligent, spiritual child”.

“But [she was] too young to understand the dire consequences of her parents’ decision to withdraw insulin for her… which she ultimately paid for with her own life.”

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