Twelve members of a home-based religious group have faced court for the alleged murder of Elizabeth Rose Struhs after they allegedly denied the eight-year-old life-saving medication for six days in the belief their songs and prayers to God would heal her.
Facing Toowoomba magistrates court on Wednesday, Brendan Stevens, 60, was also charged with failing to supply the necessaries of life. His wife, Loretta, 65, and six other people bearing the surname Stevens, aged between 21 and 35, were among those facing court.
Zachary Struhs, 19, Keita Courtney, 20, Samantha Crouch, 24, and Lachlan Schoenfisch, 32, were also charged with Elizabeth’s alleged murder.
Elizabeth had type 1 diabetes and died in her family’s Rangeville home, west of Brisbane, on 7 January. Police allege paramedics were not called to the scene until 5.30pm the next day.
Her parents, Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs and Jason Richard Struhs, were charged earlier this year with murder, torture and failing to supply the necessaries of life, and were imprisoned awaiting trial. They have not yet entered pleas.
The 12 people charged this week were all arrested in the early hours of Tuesday morning in the same home in Harristown, Toowoomba. All 14 now charged with murder were members of a small and tightly-knit religious group who were allegedly present when the eight-year-old died, reportedly singing, chanting and praying.
Acting Det Supt Garry Watts said police would allege all 12 arrested on Tuesday were aware of Elizabeth’s condition, present during the course of those fateful six days and did not take any steps to provide the dying child her prescribed insulin or seek medical assistance.
He said the religious group comprised three families.
The Toowoomba Chronicle reported that Crouch and Schoenfisch testified to being a married couple, that members of the group declined legal advice and that they had been remanded in custody to 31 August.
Brendan Stevens, however, consented to seeing a duty lawyer, indicating he wished to apply for bail in the supreme court as he had a “child at home ... who needs care”.
The Chronicle reported Zachary Struhs as being among those to decline legal advice.
“This is two months of my life and I’m still innocent,” he said.
When told by the magistrate that his case could be discussed later, Struhs reportedly said: “In two months? That’s my life.”
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Elizabeth’s eldest of seven siblings, Jayde Struhs, has spoken publicly in the months since her younger sister’s death.
She said she ran away from her family aged 16 after questioning her parent’s religious practices.