The Case of Hannah Overton
Michael CravenMichael Craven's weblog
- 2009 Nov 30
In Corpus Christi, Texas, where my parents live and worship, the Christian community was rocked two years ago by the shocking conviction of Hannah Overton. In an outrageous series of events, this gentle thirty-year-old Christ-follower, wife, and homeschooling mother of five was sentenced to life without parole in the death of Andrew Burd, the four-year-old child that she and her husband were adopting from the foster-care system.
Andrew was born to a mother who admitted to abusing methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, crank, acid, and alcohol while pregnant. Andrew suffered speech and coordination issues. He also had five markers for diabetes, which were undiagnosed. Nonetheless, Hannah's heart was to work through all these things and see Andrew have the best life he possibly could. Tragically Andrew died on October 3, 2006. Prosecutors charged that Mrs. Overton created a toxic brew of spices, put it in Andrew's sippy cup and forced him to drink it, causing lethal salt poisoning (hypernatremia).
However, the Overtons' story is quite different. The fact is, Andrew had an eating disorder that left him hungry all the time—even immediately after a meal. If he didn't get more food, he would become agitated. Hannah's practice was to give him a spoonful of Zatarain's seasoning dissolved in water to satiate his voracious appetite. Following one such incident, Andrew became ill, getting cold and vomiting. However, Andrew chronically overate, sometimes from the trash can, and threw up frequently. When Andrew's symptoms worsened, Hannah rushed him to the emergency room. The hospital staff also failed to properly diagnose Andrew's symptoms and administered saline intravenously, unaware that he was dying of too much salt. An expert witness testified that it would have taken up to twenty-three tablespoons of Zatarain's consumed in a period of no more than fifteen minutes to reach the sodium levels one doctor said were the "highest ever recorded."
By every account, the local justice system not only failed but also may have actually crossed the line into willful misconduct, resulting in an unimaginable nightmare for the Overtons.
As details of the case emerged, an anti-Christian bias within the prosecutor's office became clear. "For all the Christians out there, understand this, Hannah's simple faith was used against her as the prosecution incessantly sought to make her out to be a religious sociopath," according to Rod Carver, the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Corpus Christi where the Overton's are members.
One effect of this inconceivable injustice has been the unification of the body of Christ—ironically in the city of the same name. Churches and pastors have come together in unprecedented ways to rally for justice on Hannah's behalf. They have raised money for her defense, paid for her appeals, and taken her case before numerous state officials. National media has covered the story but, despite growing pressure from the community and clear evidence exonerating Hannah (see www.FreeHannah.com), she remains in a Texas state prison with little hope of ever being with her family again. This is what makes her story so compelling.
In the shadow of such injustice and despite unimaginable suffering, Hannah remains steadfast—strengthened in her faith—even "excited" to see how the Lord is "pleased" to use her in prison for His sake. In her most recent letter, following the heartbreak of her latest appeal's denial, she writes, "I'm amazed at all He's done and is doing through my case. Who am I to say my desire to be home is more important than whatever God calls me to do? I know the time will come when His promises are fulfilled. So now I wait upon waiting, running the race with the endurance He gives as He pours the oil of Joy over my family and sustains us for the journey."
Hannah's life and story reveals the disturbing paradox of the kingdom that our Lord revealed to Paul, "For My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9, NKJV). Clearly, God's strength is being manifested in Hannah's circumstances as she is being used to deliver and demonstrate the good news to multitudes of women in her prison. Her letters are full of prayers and pleadings on behalf of the many women she has encountered and begun to disciple. Despite her own suffering and the horror of her circumstances, she remains more concerned about those for whom God has given her a burden. She has suffered countless persecutions for her faith, having had the cords to her appliances—these precious conveniences—cut by her opponents; she has received numerous threats. And yet, she "rejoices" that the Lord uses these trials to testify of Himself in this dark and desperate place.
At one point in a recent letter she quotes Spurgeon, who wrote, "So surely as the stars were fashioned by His hands and their orbits fixed by Him so surely are our trials allotted to us. He has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have on us." She then goes on to say:
I've been reading this book called "The Heavenly Man," the story of a persecuted Christian in China. This book has been challenging for me, in a good way. His story reminded me that many Christians are so spoiled that in a way we forget we need God, when everything is going wrong in our earthly life; we have no hope, but God! Multitudes of church members are satisfied with giving their minimum to God not their all. Every house church pastor in China is willing to lay down his life for the gospel. What are we willing to give up? Do we hold on to our rights, desires, positions, loved ones as if they are not gifts from God in the first place? Rom. 12:1 says, "I beseech you therefore brethren, in the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service." Did you notice the last phrase? This is your reasonable service. When we consider who God is and what He's done is it not reasonable for Him to do as He pleases with us? I know I've been guilty of getting caught up in self-pity instead of being honored to be used by God.The question that confronts me is this: Would I be so "honored" to suffer in this way for Christ's sake? Am I really committed to being a "living sacrifice" and do I so deeply comprehend the depth of God's mercy and grace that I would consider such sacrifice "reasonable?" I pray, by God's grace, that I do.
I encourage you to learn more about Hannah Overton and her case. Pray for her and her family. Answer this sister's call when she writes:
Please pray consistently for me and my family. Pray for strength, healing, peace, and restoration, as this really hurts a lot and we need your prayers. Pray for the ministry God has called us to at this time that we will be found worthy of our calling (1 Timothy 1:12). And I thank Jesus Christ, Our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful putting me into ministry.
You can learn much more about Hannah's case at www.FreeHannah.com, including suggestions on how you can help. Make no mistake, what happened to Hannah portends of a growing bias against Christians that threatens our most basic rights. It is no longer safe to assume that justice is blind when one professes faith in Jesus Christ.
© 2009 by S. Michael Craven
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org