Lansing parents who refused treatment for baby who died to face trial

LANSING - A Lansing couple accused of refusing to seek medical treatment for their newborn daughter's jaundice symptoms despite a midwife's warnings will face trial for involuntary manslaughter.

Rachel Piland, 30, and Joshua Piland, 36, are charged in connection with the death of their infant daughter Abigail Piland in February.

Related: Couple charged in newborn's death opted for ‘physical discipline' over custody of 2 other children

A hearing to determine whether the couple will face trial began last week and concluded Thursday afternoon.

Arguing in Lansing's 54A District Court, Assistant Ingham County Prosecutor Nicole Matusko said the Pilands had a "duty to seek medical attention" when a midwife warned their daughter's jaundice represented problems that could lead to brain damage or death.

She also noted that a doctor who performed the autopsy said Abigail's death resulted from conditions that are "extremely rare due to treatment options in this country."

Defense attorneys responded by pointing out that the Pilands initially gave the midwife permission to contact a doctor, even if they later cancelled a follow up appointment with the midwife.

They also positioned their daughter near a window in an attempt to help treat Abigail's jaundice with sunlight.

"Sunlight can be a treatment for this particular type of issue," said Jacob Sartz, who represents Rachel Piland.

Scott Koerner, Joshua Piland's attorney, said one of the couple's other children had suffered from jaundice and they successfully treated him the same way.

In earlier testimony, police said the Pilands refused to seek medical help for the baby, even after her skin turned yellow, blood was seen coming from her nose and she was not eating or sleeping well.

After the baby stopped breathing, the Pilands contacted a pastor and some friends, asking them to pray for Abigail and inviting them to "come out if they wanted to," Lansing police Detective Peter Scaccia testified Thursday.

►Related: 'God ... makes no mistakes': Warned baby could die, couple rejected treatment, police say

Police learned of the death when a relative of Rachel Piland called them from California, according to testimony in an earlier hearing.

Judge Stacia Buchanan acknowledged the low standard of evidence at a preliminary hearing before binding the Pilands over for trial. Their arraignment in Ingham County Circuit Court is set for Nov. 15.

The Pilands are currently involved in a fight with state officials over custody of their other two children.

Seven weeks after Abigail's death, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials petitioned to have the couple's two boys, currently ages 2 and 3, removed from their custody due to a "concern of threatened harm of physical neglect."

Ingham County Circuit Court Referee Megan Mertens approved the petition March 31, court records show.

At a review hearing in June, the two boys might have been allowed back into the Pilands' home — with numerous conditions in place — but the couple refused to comply with a court-ordered safety plan that would have outlawed "physical discipline of the children."

Rachel Piland's brother, Aaron Kerr, told the State Journal last month his sister's children were temporarily placed into the care of his parents, who live in Grand Rapids. The Pilands' parental rights could be permanently revoked, but the case has not yet been resolved.

An MDHHS spokesperson declined to comment on the custody case.

In an interview nearly a month after Abigail's death, Rachel Piland told DHHS investigators she believed she would hold her child again because the baby would be resurrected, according to court records.

She and Joshua Piland also said they understood the newborn's symptoms but chose to "believe in the word of God over the symptoms," the records show.

Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WZZM 13 app now.

Have a news tip? Email news@wzzm13.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter.

© 2017, Lansing State Journal


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment