INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A Jackson County jury says that a former Lee’s Summit Police officer and his brother are negligent in the 2007 death of the officer’s wife in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the woman’s parents.
The jury awarded the parents of Misty Horner $8.65 million in actual damages and a cumulative $100 million in punitive damages in the case.
The trial focused on Caleb Horner, his brother, John Horner, and a third person, Amber Leather, who did not seek medical attention for Caleb Horner’s wife, Misty Horner, after she gave birth to a still-born baby at the couple’s home. She was not taken to a hospital because of her and husband Caleb Horner’s religious beliefs.
Caleb Horner, John Horner and Amber Leather – who acted as a midwife at the birth – all represented themselves in court.
Jurors – who voted 12-0 in favor of the verdict – divided the $100 million punitive damage awayrd up by determining that Caleb Horner and John Horner were responsible for $40 million each, while Leather was responsible for $20 million.
The jury was also asked to divide up the responsibility for Misty Horner’s death between her, Caleb Horner, John Horner and Leather. The jury decided that Caleb Horner was 45 percent responsible for his wife’s death, John Horner was 35 percent responsible, Leather was 20 percent responsible and Misty Horner was not responsible at all for her own death.
A fourth person named in the lawsuit settled with the family out-of-court.
According to court testimony, the Horner’s and Leather were part of a church created by John Horner, who believes himself to be an “apostle” and who preached that prayer will heal physical ailments, not modern medicine.
“You can believe whatever you want that’s the great thing about this country — but you can’t manipulate people, you can’t brain wash people,” said Danny Thomas, attorney for Misty Horner’s parents, Gail and Darrell Mansfield.
According to investigators, Caleb Horner performed an emergency episiotomy on Misty Horner with a pair of scissors as the baby, named Sydney, was born dead and in a breach position. Investigators say that Misty Horner was septic and suffering from a terrible infection.
Misty Horner’s parents say that they were kept away from their daughter, but when they finally saw her she was clearly dying. They asked Caleb Horner to take their daughter to the hospital, but they say he refused, calling the situation “God’s will.”
Witnesses say that at one point, Misty Horner put her clothes on to go to the hospital, but was convinced that she just needed to believe in God’s healing power.
Misty Horner’s best friend, Tina Moore, testified that their religion required Misty Horner to be submissive to her husband at all times. In December 2006, Misty went into labor. According to Moore, Caleb Horner hired two midwives who were unqualified to deliver a baby, as Moore said they asked her to look up information in guide books.
During her testimony, Moore said Caleb Horner blamed the baby’s death on his wife’s family, calling it “generational sin” and that it was God’s way of punishing them.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Moore after the verdict was announced on Friday. “I’m happy they will be accountable on some level. We’ll never see the full justice because they deserve to be in jail, but it feels good they lost something.”
The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office declined to press charges in the case, saying that they weren’t convinced that Misty Horner had actually wanted to seek medical treatment. But her parents insist that was because their daughter was brainwashed.
Caleb Horner is a former Lee’ Summit Police Officer who was fired in June of 2008. He has sued the city, claiming that his firing was because of his religious beliefs, while the city said it was because he failed to notify authorities at the first sign of Misty Horner’s death.
Witnesses testified that church members prayed over Misty Horner’s body for hours because they believed that prayer can raise the dead.