Lengthy trial for faith group charged over girl’s death

Rex Martinich |

A total of 14 people will face trial over the death of girl allegedly denied diabetes medication.
A total of 14 people will face trial over the death of girl allegedly denied diabetes medication.

A group of 14 people charged with killing an eight-year-old girl by denying her medical care could face a seven-week trial involving dozens of hours of recorded phone calls.

Elizabeth Struhs died at the family home in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, on January 7 of 2022 after her parents and 12 other members of a religious group called The Saints allegedly withheld her diabetes medication for six days.

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

Elizabeth’s father, Jason Richard Struhs, and the leader of the religious group, Brendan Luke Stevens, have previously been indicted for murder while the other 12, including the child’s mother Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs, were indicted on a charge of manslaughter.

The 14 defendants, who represented themselves, appeared via videolink in Brisbane Supreme Court on Wednesday for a review of arrangements for the trial.

The defendants appeared in three separate connections from remand, with the women wearing light blue detainee uniforms and the men in green.

Crown prosecutor Caroline Marco said there were 60 witnesses in the trial plan along with 76 hours of recorded conversations that would take three weeks to play in court.

“The trial plan doesn’t include police witnesses that will give evidence in respect of devices and CCTV and the letters,” Ms Marco said.

Ms Marco said the defendants had yet to receive copies of data seized by police from mobile phones and evidence from a handwriting expert.

Justice Martin Burns said the disclosure needed to speed up if the trial was to meet its expected start date in early July.

Ms Marco then told the court that police had provided the prosecution with copies of phone calls and letters that the defendants had exchanged while in custody.

“We haven’t looked at them but neither have we disclosed them to the defendants,” Ms Marco said.

Justice Burns said he was “uneasy” about prosecutors in the case potentially viewing communications that had been routinely recorded by the prison system.

“There might be conflict there in that’s how they’re supposed to approach their own defence,” he said.

Commonwealth law states there is a legal privilege between solicitors and their clients that keeps their verbal and written communications confidential.

Brendan Stevens told the court it had been his belief that all communications between the defendants should be confidential.

Ms Marco said she would have a third party assess the material provided by the prison system and would confirm that the defendants’ meetings were not being recorded.

The trial will be held before a judge and without a jury present due to the “notoriety” and complexity of the case.

The other defendants 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.

Justice Burns adjourned the matter for another review on May 1.