A Christian Scientist couple who prayed for their dying son rather than seek medical help have been acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment charges, officials said.
In a non-jury trial, Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Robert Thomas ruled Friday that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Eliot D. Glaser, 32, and his wife, Lise, 31, of Van Nuys exercised wanton disregard for the life of their 17-month-old son, Seth, by not taking him to a hospital when he became ill.
Instead, the parents took the boy to the Santa Monica home of Virginia L. Scott, a Christian Science faith healer, who prayed over the child for almost two hours before he died of acute bacterial meningitis March 28, 1984. Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that envelop the brain and spinal cord.
Asked to comment on the favorable verdict, Lise Glaser said Saturday: "I'm deeply grateful, but I don't want to say anything."
"We don't want to say anything because it might affect other cases like ours out there," Eliot Glaser added.
The acquittal ended a six-year ordeal for the Glasers, who insisted on their innocence because they said they had detected some signs of hope for the boy's recovery.
Two days before the boy's death, the parents--who were then living in Santa Monica--said his symptoms included only a mild fever, some coughing and vomiting, and skin discoloration.
The next day, the boy suffered his most severe relapse, vomiting repeatedly, running up his highest temperature ever and turning blue in the face, said Deputy Dist. Atty. David F. Wells, who prosecuted the case. On the way to seek treatment from Scott, the child went into muscle spasms and suffered a loss of breathing. He died within 15 minutes of his last attack.
Initially, the Glasers were charged with second-degree murder, but the charges were later reduced. Scott, the Christian Science practitioner, was accused of involuntary manslaughter and felony child endangerment but the charges were dismissed in 1985.
On Saturday, Scott would only say that she is "happy" for the Glasers' acquittal. In a 1985 interview with The Times, she described them as "loving parents."
The issue of the Glasers' religion did not play a major part in the verdict because previous hearings had determined that other legal questions--such as whether or not the boy's parents were guilty of felony child endangerment for not seeking medical help--were more relevant to the case, Wells said.
Douglas Dalton, the attorney for the Glasers, could not be reached for comment.
State law requires that parents provide basic necessities such as food, clothing and medical care. The law was later amended to allow "practitioners of a recognized church or religious denomination" to use "spiritual means" instead of medical care to treat children. However, parents can be held criminally accountable if, in the course of such treatment, the child's health is endangered.
After the appeals court made its decision, both sides in the case agreed to let Judge Thomas decide the Glasers' fate.
Thomas began his review of the case in January, relying on transcripts and tape recordings of testimony given in 1985 by the Glasers and by doctors who said the boy could have been saved if he had been brought to a hospital.
Because the boy seemed to experience brief remission periods, Wells said, Thomas ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the Glasers acted with criminal negligence.