Misty Horner wrongful death lawsuit: Horners want new trial after $108M ruling

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. - Gail and Darrell Mansfield won a $108 million judgment against the group they believe contributed to death of their daughter, Misty Horner. But six years after her death, Darrell and Gail Mansfield still struggle to make sense of what happened.

"You start questioning yourself. Why didn't I see this? Why couldn't I stop this before it's too late?" Darrell said.

The Mansfields describe Misty as strong-willed and tenacious, which is why Misty's conversion to teachings of John Horner still puzzles her parents to this day.

"She knew what she wanted, and she'd go do it. And I don't see how to take a strong person like that and break them down to where they're a total submissive person," Gail explained.

GALLERY | A life cut short: Misty Horner through the years http://bit.ly/XeFWWC

Misty's dad said she was a great student with many friends, and that she often volunteered her time to help others. They said she was always interested in law enforcement and eventually became a dispatcher for the Lee's Summit Police Department.

"She was my best friend. We were very close," Gail said.

Misty Mansfield meets Caleb Horner

Gail remembers when Misty first introduced her to Caleb Horner, who worked as a Lee's Summit police officer.

"He seemed like a decent person," Gail said. But looking back, she told 41 Action News she now sees red flags.

"She said later on in the months that Caleb said he was going to have a problem with me. I didn't pick up on it then, but of course I understand it now," Gail added.

When Misty and Caleb decided to get married, Darrell said he gave the marriage his blessing.

"She married a man who had his own house. (He) had a job. Had a career and stuff, and that's what you want your daughter to have, you know?" he said.

Darrell said looking back, he should have noticed a red flag at Caleb and Misty's wedding. Caleb's brother, John Horner, presided over the ceremony in June 2004.

"I mean (John) kept going on … I mean off the wall stuff that had nothing to do about marriage. He was talking about commitment and submissiveness," Darrell recalled.

Not long after the wedding, Darrell said he and his wife learned the marriage was not valid in the state of Missouri.

Police records following Misty's death show Misty also told her sister Kim they were not legally married, and she admitted to her sister that John was not licensed to marry people because his license was revoked.

"When I started questioning my daughter about that, Caleb said we are married in the eyes of God … we don't have to be married in man's law," Darrell said.

The Teachings of John Horner

Misty and Caleb Horner followed the teachings of John Horner, Caleb's brother.

John Horner believes the Bible forbids the use of modern medicine, doctors or pharmaceuticals.

He has posted two publications online: "Sarah or Jezebel" and "If God Started a Church."

John now splits his time between Kansas City and his mission work in Mexico. He runs a trucking company called "Always Helpful Ministry Movers." Federal transportation records show he is not authorized to operate a trucking company.

RELATED | Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration report http://bit.ly/Xcnf83

On the company's website, John has posted videos of his mission work, as well as links to his writings.

John corresponded with 41 Action News via email but declined our invitation to do an on camera interview.

Misty announces she's pregnant

Misty's parents said throughout Caleb and Misty's marriage, they struggled to see their daughter on their own. At one point, they said Caleb would not allow Misty to enter her parents' home because the walls were painted white, which he felt meant there were demons inside. When Misty would visit, the family said they would have to sit on the back porch.

Still, the Mansfields said they were excited to learn that they had a grandchild on the way. However, they were concerned when Misty told them she planned to give birth at home as Caleb wished.

"I said Miss -- I don't think that's a good idea," Gail said, remembering her conversation with Misty. " I said I almost died with Misty. I hemorrhaged. My daughter had a breeched birth. Plus, my oldest daughter lost a child."

Misty told her parents that John Horner's sisters had delivered all of their babies at home, and that they were midwives.

RELATED | Complete Lee's Summit police investigation http://bit.ly/XeoFwM

Police records state that the couple read books about pregnancy and motherhood and attended the Bradley Method childbirth education classes. The Bradley Method advocates child birth education, but does not advocate unattended births.

Police records also show that Misty contacted her sister, who works in the medical field, in mid-November 2006 to see if a doctor in her office could do an ultrasound to determine if the baby was in the normal birthing position. Her sister stated that Misty had asked Caleb if she could do the ultrasound, and Caleb told Misty she could not.

The sister also told police she told Misty to visit a doctor, but Misty told her she would be in trouble if she were caught doing this because of the Horners' beliefs.

Misty goes into labor

Records from a Lee's Summit police investigation show that Misty's water broke on December 4, 2006.

Thirty-two hours later, Misty called her childbirth instructor. That woman asked another instructor she knew to visit the Horner home.

In the police report, the instructor told Misty she thought the baby was not in the correct position, and it appeared she had meconium. The National Institutes of Health defines "meconium" as the baby's first feces and often a sign of long labor or a breeched birth. The doula told Misty to go to the hospital.

The police investigation shows that at this point, the Horners started getting ready to go to the hospital, and Misty put her clothes on. The instructor told police she discussed which hospital they should go to and offered to go with them.

The report shows Caleb went to pray, then came back and told the instructor the couple had changed their mind.

Records show 96 hours after Misty's water broke, Caleb Horner performed a small episiotomy to help get the baby out. However, those records show he used the only scissors that were in the home, which had a residue and filth on them.

The baby, named Sydney, was stillborn. A friend of Misty's who was present for the birth told police that family members prayed over the baby for hours "trying to raise the baby from the dead."

How Misty Horner's parents learned her baby was stillborn http://bit.ly/XEoDxI

Almost one month later, Misty Horner passed away from complications from the birth.

The Jackson County medical examiner ruled that she died from sepsis and bacterial endocarditis due to endometritis following childbirth.

RELATED | Misty Horner autopsy report http://bit.ly/12RLPQF

Misty's parents take action

At the time, prosecutors declined to file charges in Misty's case because they were unsure they could prove that Misty wanted help. So Misty's parents took action in civil court by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

The suit alleged that Caleb and John Horner did not help Misty and separated her from people who would.

RELATED | $108 million judgment in wrongful death suit http://on.mo.gov/14X3ODA

"There is testimony at trial that Caleb said this, ‘If something goes wrong we don't want the authorities involved.' So they create a system or situation that no matter what happens -- the police aren't coming, the ambulance isn't coming and the hospital is not getting called," said Danny Thomas, attorney for the Mansfield family.

Thomas said that during the trial, the medical examiner testified an infection from that episiotomy caused Misty's death, and Sydney could have easily been born alive if they had gone to a doctor. 

Thomas made his case by showing the jury that Misty made several attempts to get help.

"There was the incident where Misty called the chiropractor and he says ‘You need to hang up the phone and call 911' and she says ‘They won't let me.' That's not freedom of religion, okay, that's them imposing their will on somebody," Thomas said.

Misty's parents' regrets

Misty's parents plan to try and keep their daughter's memory alive by sharing her story and urging other parents to watch their children.

Misty's parents did make several attempts to get law enforcement involved, but to no avail.

"I will forever blame myself, but I had a Lee's Summit cop threatening my wife and I. ‘You come back out here and I will call the police for trespassing. You do this you'll never be able to speak to your daughter again.' Maybe if I was more macho or something ... I could ... she'd be alive," said Misty's dad.

"So yeah .... I've got the guilt. And it'll never go away. Never," he said. 

We tried to contact Caleb Horner about the judgment, but he did not return our phone calls or emails. Court records show he filed for a request for a new trial February 8, 2013.

Thomas, the Mansfield family's attorney, said motions for a new trial are routine and filed in almost every trial. Their legal team has not yet analyzed the motion and don't want to provide further comment at this time.

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