‘Suffered’: New claims on girl’s final hours

A massive months-long trial of multiple members of a cult-like religious group who are charged over the death of an eight-year-old girl is due to commence.
14 members of a religious circle accused of killing Toowoomba girl Elizabeth Struhs - which include her mother, father and older brother - will stand trial in the Supreme Court.

An eight-year-old girl suffered “for days” after members of a faith-healing religious group – including her parents – allegedly withheld her lifesaving insulin medication.

14 members of the religious group, known as The Saints, are on trial in Brisbane Supreme Court over the death of Toowoomba girl Elizabeth Struhs back in 2022.

The entire group entered no pleas to varying charges of murder and manslaughter at the start of the trial on Wednesday afternoon.

Those charged over her death include her parents, Jason Richard Struhs, 52 and Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs, 49 along with her older brother Zachary Alan Struhs, 21.

Elizabeth, a Type-1 diabetic, was found dead at her family’s Rangeville home, on January 7, 2022.

Elizabeth Struhs, 8, was found dead at her family’s Rangeville home, near Toowoomba, on January 7, 2022. Picture: Supplied
Elizabeth Struhs, 8, was found dead at her family’s Rangeville home, near Toowoomba, on January 7, 2022. Picture: Supplied
Elizabeth’s parents Jason Richard Struhs (left) and Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs are among the 14 members of a religious circle charged over the girl’s death. Picture: Supplied
Elizabeth’s parents Jason Richard Struhs (left) and Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs are among the 14 members of a religious circle charged over the girl’s death. Picture: Supplied

The Crown alleges members of a closely-knit religious circle known as “The Saints” withheld the girl’s lifesaving insulin medication for several days before she died.

Its members have professed to believe in the healing power of God and shun medical intervention.

It is further alleged the group prayed for Elizabeth to be “healed” by God instead of seeking medical attention.

Brendan Luke Stevens – the 67-year-old leader of The Saints – and Jason Struhs are both charged with her murder.

Twelve others, including Kerrie and Zachary Struhs, are facing charges of manslaughter only.

The others include 67-year-old Loretta Mary Stevens – the wife of Brendan Stevens – and their adult children Acacia Naree Stevens, 31, Therese Maria Stevens, 37, Sebastian James Stevens, 23, Andrea Louise Stevens, 34, Camellia Claire Stevens, 28, and Alexander Francis Stevens, 26.

Another couple – Lachlan Stuart Schoenfisch, 34 and his wife Samantha Emily Schoenfisch, 26 – and a third woman, Keita Courtney Martin, 22, are also charged with manslaughter.

Crown prosecutor Caroline Marco told the court Elizabeth died sometime between the evening of January 6 and the morning of January 7, 2022.

Ms Marco said the little girl’s cause of death was from diabetic ketoacidosis resulting from her insulin medication being withdrawn, where she suffered “for days”.

Kerrie and Jason Struhs were well aware of Elizabeth’s condition and the consequences of her not receiving her medication following an incident where the girl was hospitalised in 2019, she said.

The court was told Kerrie Struhs was found guilty of failing to supply the necessaries of life over this incident in 2021 and was jailed for five months.

Jason gave evidence against her during the proceedings.

Ms Marco said Kerrie Struhs had been a member of the congregation for 17 years – sharing the group’s belief that God would heal all and rejecting medical intervention.

Jason was baptised into the group while his wife was in jail because he was “not coping” looking after their children and arguing with his son Zachary.

“Mr Jason Struhs knew if he did not change he would lose his wife and family,” Ms Marco said.

Brendan Stevens, the leader of The Saints, is charged with murder alongside Jason Struhs. Picture: Supplied
Brendan Stevens, the leader of The Saints, is charged with murder alongside Jason Struhs. Picture: Supplied

But Jason Struhs did not fully embrace the group’s belief regarding the rejection of medical intervention, especially around Elizabeth’s need for insulin, Ms Marco said.

The court was told on Monday, January 3, 2022 Jason and Kerrie Struhs both made the decision to completely withdraw Elizabeth’s insulin in accordance with the congregation’s “extreme” beliefs.

On Tuesday, Elizabeth started vomiting after each meal and was described as “lethargic”.

“She was described as speaking little … needed help going to the toilet, and being incontinent,” Ms Marco said.

By Thursday, Elizabeth was mostly in a state of unconsciousness and had stopped speaking, Ms Marco said.

The court was told members of the Stevens family were looking after overnight but by the next morning, it was discovered she was no longer breathing.

“She was just eight years old when she died,” Ms Marco said.

“She was too young to understand the dire consequences to withdraw the insulin … which she ultimately paid for with the cost of her life.”

A court sketch of the 14 defendants in Brisbane Supreme Court on Wednesday. The three with their faces more in profile are Elizabeth’s father Jason Richard Struhs (wearing glasses) and the religious group’s leader Brendan Struhs (with the long beard). Elizabeth’s mother Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs is seated beside him. Picture: NewsWire
A court sketch of the 14 defendants in Brisbane Supreme Court on Wednesday. The three with their faces more in profile are Elizabeth’s father Jason Richard Struhs (wearing glasses) and the religious group’s leader Brendan Struhs (with the long beard). Elizabeth’s mother Kerrie Elizabeth Struhs is seated beside him. Picture: NewsWire

Ms Marco said both Jason and Kerrie had Elizabeth a duty of care to provide the necessaries of life, and they breached this by not providing her insulin.

“Notwithstanding Jason Struhs’ resistance, his wife and each of the other defendants united in a mission to persuade him to adhere to all aspects of their faith, including the fundamental tenet that God heals ” she said.

“And by the sustained pressure they placed upon him to conform, they succeeded in managing to convince him not to administer or require Elizabeth to take insulin and not to obtain medical care or treatment for her, consistent with the extreme beliefs of their faith.”

60 witnesses will be called by the crown, including Jayde Struhs – the adult daughter of Kerrie and Jason Struhs who left home in 2014 when she was a teenager.

Ms Marco said multiple text messages exchanged between the group would be relied upon throughout the trial.

Some of the messages – taken from the phones of members of the Stevens family – were read out in court on Wednesday.

Ms Marco said some of the messages showed Kerrie Struhs speaking with Loretta Stevens about Elizabeth’s diabetes on July 11, 2019.

On July 16, 2019, Kerrie Struhs allegedly tells Brendan Stevens her husband nearly took Elizabeth to hospital while she was ill.

“He’s torn,” she allegedly states, later explaining she “doesn’t know how to stop him”.

Brendan Stevens then allegedly responds with: “God has it all in hand, and she (Elizabeth) is healed”.

In another message, Brendan is alleged to have said: “God shall prevail, not Jason” when told Jason Struhs is taking his daughter to the hospital the next morning.

None of the members of the religious circle have sought legal advice or representation, nor applied for bail.

The trial courtroom has been modified to accommodate all 14 defendants and allow them to meet each day before proceedings start.

This includes two lengthy tables with microphones and screens to allow each of the defendants to

During their arraignment on Wednesday afternoon, each of the defendants said “no plea” or “I do not enter a plea” when asked if how they pleaded to their respective charges.

Lachlan Stuart Schoenfisch his wife and Samantha Emily Schoenfisch are among the 12 other defendants charged with Elizabeth Struhs’ manslaughter. Picture: Supplied
Lachlan Stuart Schoenfisch his wife and Samantha Emily Schoenfisch are among the 12 other defendants charged with Elizabeth Struhs’ manslaughter. Picture: Supplied
Keita Courtney Martin is charged with the manslaughter of Elizabeth Struhs. Picture: Facebook
Keita Courtney Martin is also charged with the manslaughter of Elizabeth Struhs. Picture: Facebook

Supreme Court Justice Martin Burns directed pleas of not guilty for each of the accused be entered in response.

He told the group he was obliged to give each of the defendants “sufficient information” to assist them during the trial, as they were all unrepresented.

“But I cannot provide you with legal advice,” Justice Burns said.

The trial follows protracted legal reviews which have progressed through the Supreme Court since indictments were first presented last year.

Jason Struhs is charged with murder on the allegation he caused Elizabeth’s death by failing to provide her insulin and medical care and treatment, knowing it would probably cause her death.

Kerrie Struhs is charged with manslaughter on the allegation she failed to provide insulin to Elizabeth and/or did not provide medical care and treatment for her.

Brendan Stevens’ charge of murder relates to the allegation he counselled either or both Jason and Kerrie Struhs to cease providing Elizabeth insulin and/or medical care and treatment, knowing to do so would probably cause her death.

In the alternative, the Crown alleges Brendan Stevens aided or enabled either or both Jason Struhs and Kerrie Struhs to unlawfully kill Elizabeth by encouraging and supporting them to cease providing insulin to her, and/or not to provide medical care and treatment to her, knowing that would probably cause her death.

The other 11 defendants are charged with manslaughter on the allegation they “counselled and/or procured and/or aided Elizabeth’s parents … by their words and actions” to unlawfully kill Elizabeth.

The trial, before Supreme Court Justice Martin Burns, is scheduled to run for 55 days.