LOS ANGELES — At the age of three, Brianica Kirsch was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Her parents, desperate to find alternative measures for their daughter who had undergone surgeries and chemotherapy, turned to Dr. Christine Daniel, who offered an herbal supplement with a success rate she claimed was between 60 and 80 percent.
Brianica’s parents spent thousands of dollars on the herbal product and their daughter spent much of her time in those last few months before she died in the summer of 2002 being shuttled from her Ventura County home to Daniel’s clinic in the San Fernando Valley.
Daniel, 58, is scheduled to be sentenced Friday in a Los Angeles courtroom where federal prosecutors are asking she be sentenced to 27 years in prison for crimes they deem cruel, despicable and heinous. Daniel’s lawyer is seeking a nearly six-year prison term.
Daniel was convicted in September 2011 of 11 counts, including wire fraud, tax evasion and witness tampering. Authorities said Daniel used her position both as a doctor at the Sonrise Wellness Center and a Pentecostal minister to entice people from across the nation to take her herbal product to remedy cancer, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Federal prosecutors argue that Daniel preyed upon people in their most vulnerable state and gave them false hope.
Daniel “repeatedly demonstrated a merciless and callous indifference to the suffering of her patients and their family members,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns wrote in court documents. “It is unlikely that our federal criminal justice system will see the like of defendant Christine Daniel again.”
Some of her patients, relying on her product, died from complications of cancer within three to six months after taking the supplement. In one case, prosecutors contend a 22-year-old woman who had highly curable form of neck lymphoma died because she relied on Daniel’s recommendation to avoid radiation or chemotherapy treatments.
For Brianica’s parents, they implored Daniel for the stark truth given their daughter’s condition.
“I remember telling Dr. Daniel before we started, ‘If this isn’t real, if you can’t really help my daughter, please don’t take away our last time with her,'” LuAnn Kirsch testified at Daniel’s trial. “‘Just let us go home if you can’t really help.’ Because you don’t get that time back.”
For other patients, they endured additional pain and suffering because they took the herbal tonic provided by Daniel. At trial, experts called by federal prosecutors said chemical tests of the product showed it contained beef extract flavoring and a sunscreen preservative among other ingredients.
“I live with the guilt that I should have seen that none of what she was going through was helping her, but instead was hurting her,” Debra Harris wrote in a letter submitted to the court about her sister and Daniel’s one-time patient Barbara Davis who later died. Harris said Daniel’s patients were not only convinced by the physician that they could be cured but so were family members who “wanted to believe it just as bad.”
Paula Middlebrooks also put her faith in Daniel, who billed her nearly $60,000 over a five-month period to help treat her terminal breast cancer. Eventually, Daniel pronounced Middlebrooks was free of cancer and threw her a party. But in reality the cancer was spreading and Middlebrooks died shortly after she returned to her home in Georgia.
“This heinous conduct was a clear effort to rid herself of a problematic patient, to lull other cancer fraud patients and to create yet another miraculous ‘marketing’ example of the success of her herbal cancer treatment that would be sure to spread throughout the evangelical Christian community,” prosecutor Johns wrote in court documents.
In all, authorities believe Daniel siphoned about $1.1 million from dozens of families between 2001 and 2004.