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Religious group ‘happy’ to not go to court

Written by on May 15, 2024

A religious group accused of withholding life saving medication from an eight-year-old girl who later died have told a court they have “no intention” to be involved in pre-trial hearing proceedings, despite not having any lawyer to represent them.

Elizabeth Struhs, a type 1 diabetic, was found dead at the Struhs family’s Rangeville home, near Toowoomba, on January 7, 2022.

The Crown will allege during a seven-week trial the young girl was deprived of her insulin medication for days by the tight knit religious group – known as The Saints.

Elizabeth’s father Jason Struhs and the Queensland group’s leader, Brendan Luke Stevens, are both charged with her murder.

It will be further alleged in court the group, who believe in the healing power of God, opted to pray for God to heal the child instead of seeking medical attention.

Initially 12 other people – including Mrs Struhs and Elizabeth’s elder brother Zachary Alan Struhs – were also charged with murder.

The Crown has since downgraded their charges to manslaughter.

All 14 people charged over the young girl’s death have elected to forgo a lawyer and will instead represent themselves.

During another review in the Brisbane Supreme Court on Wednesday, Justice Martin Burns explained to the group – who were appearing via video link – how their pre-trial hearing would run on Monday.

Justice Burns said the pre-trial hearing would address four “categories of evidence” that could be “contentious” at trial.

Justice Burns said a different Supreme Court Justice will preside over the pre-trial hearing to ensure his “mind not be cluttered with evidence that might not be admissible”.

When asked by Justice Burns whether any of the 14 co-accused wished to have an “active role” during the pre-trial, Mr Stevens told the court none of them wanted to be brought to court.

“We have already spoken together last Friday about this and we have no intention of, as you said, being involved in this process,” Mr Stevens said.

“We are happy to be just involved in the video link only.”

Justice Burns said he understood but if anyone in the group changed their minds about wanting to ask questions during the pre-trial hearing, he would arrange for all 14 co-accused to appear in person during the hearing.

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The judge-only trial is expected to run for seven weeks.

Those now facing manslaughter also include Mr Stevens’ wife Loretta Mary Stevens and their six adult children – Acacia Naree Stevens, Therese Maria Stevens, Sebastian James Stevens, Andrea Louise Stevens, Camellia Claire Stevens and Alexander Francis Stevens.

Lachlan Stuart Schoenfisch and his wife Samantha Emily Schoenfisch and another woman, Keita Courtney Martin, are also charged with manslaughter.