Hearing set for faith group accused over girl’s death

Cheryl Goodenough |

Fourteen people charged over the death of an eight-year-old girl appeared in court by videolink.
Fourteen people charged over the death of an eight-year-old girl appeared in court by videolink.

A religious group accused of killing an eight-year-old girl by denying her medical care are meeting weekly to prepare for a trial that could last seven weeks.

Six men and eight women charged over the death of Elizabeth Struhs in the family home in Toowoomba in January 2022 appeared by videolink from prison for a case review in the Brisbane Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The child died after her parents and 12 others allegedly withheld her diabetes medication for six days.

Instead they prayed next to Elizabeth, failing to alert emergency services as her health deteriorated, police say.

Authorities found the girl’s body on January 8.

Elizabeth’s father Jason Richard Struhs and the group’s leader Brendan Luke Stevens have previously been indicted for murder.

The other 12, including the child’s mother Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs, were indicted on a charge of manslaughter.

A pre-trial hearing to discuss categories of evidence is due to be held on May 20 and 21 before Justice Glenn Martin, ahead of the trial expected to start before Justice Martin Burns in early July.

With the group having refused representation, Justice Burns is preparing information for the accused although he cannot give them legal advice.

“I want to give each of the accused as much time as possible to understand precisely what the evidence is that will be led against them,” he said during the review.

Justice Burns planned to provide written details about the course of evidence at the trial and proof of the offences alleged against the accused.

“Then they can make an informed choice as to whether they want to participate in this hearing before Justice Martin,” he said.

Corrective Services were earlier asked to enable the group to communicate with one another in preparation for the trial.

Asked whether the weekly meetings were occurring without problems, Stevens replied: “Not without problems – we often don’t have Jason with us – but they are occurring.”

The women appeared in one video connection wearing light blue prison uniforms, while five men, dressed in green, appeared in one room and a sixth man on his own.

The group would be brought to the courtroom for the pre-trial hearing if anyone wants to make submissions, Justice Burns said.

There were 60 witnesses, along with 76 hours of recorded conversations that would take three weeks to play during the trial, crown prosecutor Caroline Marco said during an earlier review.

The trial is to be held before a judge alone with prosecutors saying the “notoriety” of the matter could prejudice jury members.

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.

Another review is due to be held on May 15.