Jackson Co. jury awards millions in cult case

Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:00 am

(Dec. 26, 2012) A Jackson County jury held a former Lee’s Summit Police officer, his brother and their cult followers responsible for the 2007 death of the officer’s wife.

Amber Horner Leathers, of El Dorado Springs, was one of the defendants in this case.

The jury, on Dec. 21, 2012, returned a unanimous $108.6 million verdict to the parents of Misty Horner. The parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against their former son-in-law, Caleb Horner, his brother, John Horner and his followers alleging that they brainwashed Misty and caused her to suffer a cruel and painful death following a botched home-birth.

John Horner, the leader of the religious cult, claims to be an apostle of his self-created church which promotes prayer to heal the sick and shuns all modern medicine. Misty’s parents were able to show that their daughter was sucked into the Horner Cult, which taught that women should be submissive to their husbands and that medical intervention is a sin against God.

“Horner and his followers convinced Misty to have an at-home birth,” said trial attorney Danny A. Thomas, who represented Misty’s parents, Gail and Darrel Mansfield. “This prevented her from getting any prenatal care including vitamins or sonograms, even upon learning the baby was breech.”

Misty’s baby died of asphyxiation during a gruesome four-day labor and delivery which culminated with her “husband” (they never had a marriage license) performing an episiotomy on her with a pair of unsterilized household scissors.

Over the course of the next 31 days, Caleb Horner and his followers kept family, friends, medical and police personnel away from Misty as the cuts to her vagina became infected. The infection and sepsis spread throughout Misty’s body as Horner and his followers performed faith healing and prayer rituals.

Misty tried to seek medical attention on numerous occasions but the Horner Cult members continuously prevented any such intervention.

A doctor testified at trial that the deaths of Misty and her child were unnecessary and preventable.

The jury found Caleb Horner to be 45% at fault. His brother, John Horner, was found 35% at fault. And their sister, Amber Horner Leathers, was found 20% at fault. The jury found that Misty had no fault for her own death.

The Lee’s Summit Police Department also fired Horner for failing to call for emergency help.

“Before Misty died, her parents begged Caleb to call for help,” attorney Danny Thomas said. “He refused. They warned him that if she died they would hold him accountable. He smiled at them and said ‘I’ve researched it. You can’t touch me.’ You apparently didn’t research the power of the American jury system, Caleb Horner.”

Horner and his co-defendants claimed that the infection was not their fault and that Misty died because she adhered to her sincerely-held religious beliefs.

“You can believe whatever you want, that’s the great thing about this country,” attorney Danny Thomas said. “But you cannot manipulate people. You cannot brainwash people. And when people get hurt or die because of it, you’re going to be held accountable.”

Misty Mansfield met Defendant Caleb Horner while they were both working for the Lee’s Summit Police Department. Misty was a dispatcher and Caleb Horner was a 10-year veteran police officer.

After eight months of dating, the two were married by cult leader John Horner. Evidence introduced at trial indicated that John Horner was not an ordained minister and did not have a license. Moreover, Misty and Caleb never applied for a license from the state of Missouri due to Caleb Horner’s religious beliefs concerning the rights of the government to approve of marriages.

Friends and family of Misty testified that after the marriage, Caleb began isolating Misty from anyone who was not a member of the cult. Testimony also indicated that Caleb had Misty undergo “training” by fellow cult members on the main tenants of their beliefs.

During this training, Misty was taught that wives are to be submissive to their husband in all manners. As a teaching guide, Misty was provided a copy of the controversial book, “Created To Be His Help Meet” by Michael and Debi Pearl.

Misty was also forced to read two publications written by co-defendant John Horner. One of them, “Sara . . . Or Jezabel” focused strongly on the beliefs that all orders from men come directly from God and that any good wife should obey her husband’s commands as she would God.

Friends and family testified that Misty changed dramatically. She went from being a strong-willed, independent and vibrant woman to a submissive, quiet and obedient wife in accordance to the cult’s teachings.

When she became pregnant, Misty underwent additional cult training on the evils of any form of modern medicine. As such, all of the Horner wives were required to have homebirths. To help her in her studies, Misty was forced to read “Born in Zion” and “Healing in Zion” by controversial author, Carol Balizet. These teachings are based on the concept that the phrase “pharmekia”, as found in the Old Testament is translated from Greek to mean “witchcraft or sorcery”.

Evidence introduced at trial linked the Horner Cult to as many as six other child deaths in Missouri over the last 20 years.

The award consisted of $8.65 million in actual damages and $100 million in punitive damages, which is more than her parents asked for.

Prior to trial, co-defendant Wendi Horner Nield’s insurance company settled all claims against her for $300,000.

Trial attorneys Danny Thomas and Jonathan Soper also brought claims against all four defendants for the wrongful death of Misty’s stillborn child, Sydney Mansfield.

“The court dismissed all of those claims prior to trial because Caleb Horner was the only proper wrongful-death beneficiary under current Missouri law,” Jonathan Soper said. “This must be addressed by our lawmakers immediately.”

Jonathan Soper and Danny Thomas are part of the legal team at Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, P.C., which is the largest personal injury law firm in the Kansas City area. Since 1984, the attorneys at Humphrey Farrington have recovered more than $1 billion in damages on behalf of their clients.

Danny Thomas is a Humphrey Farrington & McClain partner who dedicates his practice exclusively to cases involving victims of catastrophic injury and wrongful death.

To learn more about Danny Thomas, Jonathan Soper and the legal team at Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, P.C., visit http://www.hfmlegal.com or call 888-353-0491.