Barnhill lives: 'Prosecute me, not my wife,' he says

Remember Brad Barnhill? In 1996, he became famous locally for refusing– on philosophical grounds, he said– to undergo a background check in order to become a coach with SOCA, the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville Albemarle. A year later, he tried to win a seat on the City Planning Commission as a Libertarian. Now he's at the center of a bizarre tilt at legal windmills. –ed.

 

A woman accused of endangering her baby by breast-feeding her while driving on the Ohio Turnpike should not be the defendant, her husband says.

He wants to be prosecuted instead, citing religious beliefs.

A trucker called 911 May 8 to report that he had seen the woman driving her car with a baby in her lap.

Catherine Nicole Donkers, 29, of suburban Pittsburgh, is to go on trial August 6 on misdemeanor charges of child endangering, failure to comply with the order of a police officer, and several other driving infractions.

A conviction for misdemeanor child endangering carries maximum penalties of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Donkers could have had the original police charges– driving without a license, obstructing official business, and violating the child safety-seat law– reduced to a single guilty plea of driving under suspension, according to court records. She then could have closed her case by posting a $100 fine.

But her husband, Brad L. Barnhill, 46, says religious beliefs put him in charge of his wife's actions.

"I'm responsible for what she does, and no one can punish her except me," he said. "If they refuse to allow me the free exercise of my religion, then we're going to appeal this all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, and they're not going to be able to try her before then."

Barnhill says his faith is rooted in The First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty, an organization founded in the late 1990s. Barnhill said he is a minister in the fellowship with 650 followers.

Asked why his wife did not stop to nurse the child, Barnhill says she didn't want to turn "a five-hour trip to Michigan into a seven-hour trip.''

Sean P. Scahill, the assistant prosecutor in charge of the case, says he could not comment on any aspect of it.

Lt. Chris Butts, a commander at the State Highway Patrol's post in Hiram, where the incident originally was investigated, says Catherine Donkers initially refused to give the responding trooper any identification but finally turned over an ID card.

Butts also said Donkers drove for three miles after the trooper turned on his siren and overhead lights and told her to stop.

Donkers said in a court document she was afraid because she alleged that police officers assaulted her on two prior occasions.

She said Barnhill "has directed me that if I am ever stopped by a law enforcement officer, I should go to the nearest public place with witnesses where I would have a reasonable assurance of my safety and that of our infant child.''