Religious group goes on trial for murder and manslaughter of Elizabeth Struhs, 8, near Toowoomba

Rex Martinich
Fourteen people were charged over the death of Toowoomba girl Elizabeth Struhs.
Fourteen people were charged over the death of Toowoomba girl Elizabeth Struhs. Credit: 7NEWS

A religious group accused of killing an eight-year-old girl believed “God would heal” her diabetes after they withheld life-saving insulin, a judge has been told.

The group of six men and eight women, including the girl’s parents, refused to enter pleas to either murder or manslaughter in the Supreme Court in Brisbane Wednesday.

Elizabeth Struhs died at the family home in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, on January 7, 2023 after her parents and 12 others allegedly withheld her diabetes medication for six days.

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Instead, they prayed next to her and did not alert authorities as the girl’s health deteriorated, police claimed.

Elizabeth died while lying on a mattress on the tiled floor of the downstairs living area in her family’s Rangeville home on January 8.

Crown prosecutor Caroline Marco said Elizabeth had been “suffering for days” due to insulin withdrawal.

“Her parents were well aware of Elizabeth’s condition and consequences that would follow having lived through the experience of diabetic ketoacidosis two years earlier when she was first diagnosed and nearly died,” Marco said.

She said the religious group had aided or encouraged Elizabeth’s parents to lower and then stop her doses of insulin because the treatment came from doctors and was created by man.

“Their extreme beliefs as a small congregation were that God would heal her,” Marco said.

The defendants did not bow to Justice Martin Burns when he entered, as is the usual courtesy for defendants, prosecutors, barristers and members of the public attending court.

The girl’s father, Jason Richard Struhs, said “no plea, your honour” when formally arraigned on a charge of murder on Wednesday.

Burns entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

The group’s leader, Brendan Luke Stevens, said “I enter no plea” when he was next to be arraigned on a murder charge.

Burns entered a plea of not guilty for Stevens and for the girl’s mother, Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs, who said “no plea” in response to a manslaughter charge.

Marco said Jason Struhs and Brendan Stevens were charged with murder as they acted with reckless indifference towards human life as they specifically knew withholding Elizabeth’s medication would probably kill her.

The judge entered not guilty pleas for the other 11 defendants as they said either “I enter no plea” or “no plea” to their charges of manslaughter.

All defendants were clad in jail-issue uniforms, with the men wearing light prison tracksuits and thongs and the women wearing blue shirts and trousers with socks and sandals.

The prosecution was previously granted a judge-only trial after arguing the case should not be heard in front of a jury due to significant prior media coverage and the “notoriety of the matter” that could prejudice jury members.

Marco said Elizabeth’s mother Kerrie Struhs had just been released from prison before her daughter’s death for a conviction of failing to provide her the necessities of life.

Elizabeth’s father Jason Struhs in 2019 had carried the girl in his arms into the Toowoomba Base Hospital and she had been evacuated by helicopter to Brisbane due to her extreme diabetic shock.

Marco said Elizabeth’s hospital treatment saved her from permanent health consequences in 2019 but two years later her father had relented to the group’s views and stopped providing her medication, leading to her death.

“Elizabeth started vomiting, she was described as lethargic ... she fell into a state of altered consciousness and was slurring her words,” Marco said.

Police bodycam footage of the arrest of members of a Toowoomba religious group over the death of Elizabeth Struhs.
Police bodycam footage of the arrest of members of a Toowoomba religious group over the death of Elizabeth Struhs. Credit: Queensland Police Service

The defendants, all of whom are representing themselves at trial, were granted a four-hour meeting in a closed courtroom on Wednesday morning to discuss their defence.

The courtroom was specially modified, with the dock and one row of public gallery seats removed to allow two rows of tables and chairs for the defendants.

Some of the defendants had previously complained about the difficulty of holding confidential meetings about their case while in custody but none has applied for bail.

At prior hearings, the defendants did not request laptops to view evidence in court but instead sought alternative pens to the flexible variety provided.

Marco said there were 60 witnesses along with 76 hours of recorded conversations that would take three weeks to play in court.

The other accused are Zachary Alan Struhs, Loretta Mary Stevens, Therese Maria Stevens, Andrea Louise Stevens, Acacia Naree Stevens, Camellia Claire Stevens, Alexander Francis Stevens, Sebastian James Stevens, Keita Courtney Martin, Lachlan Stuart Schoenfisch and Samantha Emily Schoenfisch.

The youngest was 20 years old when charged while the eldest was 66.

Marco is due to continue her opening address on Thursday with the trial expected to run for 11 weeks.

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