In an unfolding tale of religious extremism and human tragedy, the 14 members of a religious outfit implicated in the death of an eight-year-old child, Elizabeth Struhs, have been permitted an hour of congregation while remaining incarcerated.
Brendan Luke Stevens, spearheading the group, along with his fellow members, face charges resulting from the untimely and tragic demise of young Elizabeth, on the fringe of Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, in the previous year. Elizabeth’s life came to a sorrowful end at her family’s domicile in Rangeville on January 7, 2022. It has been asserted by the authorities that the child’s essential insulin medication was deliberately withheld, ultimately causing her premature death in the early days of 2022.
Jason Struhs, Elizabeth’s father, and the aforementioned Brendan Luke Stevens, have been slapped with murder charges. Further compounding this lugubrious saga, Elizabeth’s mother, Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs, her elder brother Zachary Alan Struhs along with a host of other individuals comprising Loretta Mary Stevens, Acacia Naree Stevens, Therese Maria Stevens, Sebastian James Stevens, Andrea Louise Stevens, Camellia Claire Stevens, Alexander Francis Stevens, Lachlan Stuart Schoenfisch, Samantha Emily Schoenfisch, and Keita Courtney Martin, are contending with manslaughter charges.
The police level allegations that these 14 indictees are participants in an obscure religious sect that allegedly exhibited notorious negligence in providing timely medical care to the ill-fated girl. The group, it appears, was buoyed by the collective belief that divine intervention would nullify the girl’s plight brought by diabetes.
In the latest development, it was relayed to the Brisbane Supreme Court on Friday that Queensland’s Chief Justice Helen Bowskill is set to adjudicate an application slated for a judge-only trial on November 3.
Justice Martin Burns, who has been diligently appraising the court proceedings at the high court tier, communicated to the 14 implicated individuals his stance that the no jury application ought to be examined by a “different judge.” In the backdrop of his discourse, he apprised the court that he had written to the chief justice, appealing for another judge to oversee the application. The buoyancy behind his suggestion was to serve the “best course” for the case’s progress.
The court was made privy to the fact that the group was permitted to convene in a neighboring courtroom for an hour leading up to Friday’s review. Justice Burns, addressing the defendants directly, sought to understand if the meeting was beneficial. The majority responded affirmatively, grinning and nodding in his direction. When queried about their preference for a jury, most members refrained by shaking their heads, seemingly averse to including one.
Unilaterally, everyone in the group concurred that they desired to be “tried with all the other accused”, voicing their agreement by nodding.
The November 3 hearing will observe the group convening again in person, as decreed by Justice Burns notwithstanding the fact that none of the 14 co-accused has accepted any legal counsel, opting to represent themselves.
Crown prosecutor Todd Fuller KC disclosed that the prosecution is still awaiting expert reports. He further hinted at possible “technical difficulties” if the trials were to be conducted in Toowoomba.
The determination of the trial location, according to Justice Burns, will hinge on Chief Justice Bowskill hearing the no-jury application.