When Edgar Lopez died in August 2014, the 13-year-old weighed just 68 pounds. For two days, his condition had been rapidly deteriorating, and he had gone from being unable to keep food down to struggling to breathe. His eyes were fixed in place and his skin felt cold to the touch, his father, Delfino Lopez Solis, told jurors as he broke down sobbing in court earlier this month.
But even as he wasted away before their eyes, Lopez’s parents hesitated to call 911. They had been told that the insulin that their son was supposed to be taking for his Type 1 diabetes was poison, Solis testified. Timothy Morrow, a herbalist based in Torrance, Calif., had instead told them to rub lavender oil on the boy’s spine and prescribed herbal medicine that he claimed would cure Lopez for life.
“He told us that if we took the child to the hospital, he would get killed there,” Solis said through an interpreter, according to KABC.
Instead, Lopez went into cardiac arrest and died the next day. Los Angeles’s medical examiner later determined that he could have survived if he had been given proper medical care.
On Monday, Morrow, whom prosecutors accused of contributing to the boy’s death, pleaded no contest to one count of child abuse. He had previously been found guilty of practicing medicine without a license in a trial that concluded last week and was sentenced Monday to a total of four months in jail and 48 months probation for both misdemeanor charges, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement. The case, Feuer wrote, “underscores the serious health and safety risks of taking medical advice from someone who lacks a license and the proper training that goes with it.”
As part of his sentence, Morrow, 84, was warned that he can be charged with murder if his practice leads to the death of another person in the future. He has also been ordered to cover the cost of Lopez’s funeral and pay a $5,000 fine.
On his website, Morrow describes himself as a master herbalist and claims that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 48 but cured himself by taking herbs and changing his diet. He sells a variety of dietary supplements, laxatives and protein powders, including a product called Pancreas Reg that he reportedly told Lopez’s mother was “God’s insulin” and that purports to improve blood sugar levels. A fine-print disclaimer alerts customers that those claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and that the tablets, which contain prickly pear leaf, slippery elm bark, banana leaf extract and other herbs, are not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease.
During the February trial, Morrow’s attorney, Sanford Perliss, attempted to use that warning as proof that his client was not to blame for Lopez’s death and that the responsibility lay with the boy’s family. He argued that Lopez’s mother had been interested in treating her son with herbal medicine before she met Morrow and pointed out that she had testified that she frequently relied on traditional remedies while growing up in Mexico.
"Nobody held a gun on Edgar’s mom,” Perliss said in his closing statement, according to the Daily Breeze. “Nobody stole insulin from that house so Edgar’s mom couldn’t use it. Edgar’s mom wanted to do what Edgar’s mom wanted to do.”
But Solis argued that the family had been “brainwashed” by Morrow, who told them that the for-profit American health care system benefited from making sure that people stayed sick. In her own testimony, Maria Madrigal, Lopez’s mother, said through an interpreter that the herbalist had seemed “like a god” to her and that she had attended several of his seminars on herbal medicine and been so bowled over that she agreed to recruit new clients for him, ultimately earning a total of $753 in commissions.
“I had doubts at the beginning, but then I kept going to the classes,” she said, according to KABC. “He has something that convinces you.”
She went on to explain that the symptoms of her son’s diabetes had seemed to go away for a short time, only to return two months before he died. The boy’s pediatrician had warned her that might happen, but she chose to ask Morrow for advice instead of giving him the insulin shots that he had been prescribed. Morrow assured her that everything was fine and there was no need to listen to the doctors, she said, and told her that her son was going through a “healing crisis” that would eventually cure his diabetes for good.
Instead, the seventh-grader’s condition worsened. Solis testified that Morrow visited the family’s home three times in the two days leading up to the boy’s death in August 2014, and told them that Lopez needed herbs and reflexology — a massage technique that involves applying pressure to the feet — to release the toxins from his body, according to KABC. When the 13-year-old seemed to stop breathing, Morrow allegedly advised them to open the windows so that air and light would come in.
In his testimony, Daniel Lopez recalled being told that his younger brother’s labored breathing and inability to move was just part of the “healing crisis” running its course. When he looked online, he saw similar advice from other herbalists, he told the jury. But then Edgar stopped responding to him, and his breathing became more and more shallow. The family called Morrow again, and the herbalist finally told them that they could call 911. Edgar died at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center the following day.
Morrow didn’t testify during the trial, but a video played by prosecutors showed that while under questioning by police, he denied that he had told Madrigal not to give her son insulin. He also claimed that he couldn’t have called an ambulance because doing so would invade the family’s privacy. He had no idea why the boy had died, he said, adding, “They said he had a heart attack — he wasn’t having a heart attack when I saw him.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office had considered filing felony charges against Morrow, but chose to pass the case to the city attorney instead. Last Friday, before Morrow entered his no-contest plea, a jury failed to reach unanimous agreement over whether he was guilty of misdemeanor child abuse. Lopez’s parents have not faced charges in connection with their son’s death.
At the start of the trial, jurors were shown several videos in which Morrow said that a tumor was a “gift from God” and that “insulin is very poisonous to the system.” As part of his sentence, he’s been ordered to remove YouTube videos where he advocates for the use of herbs in lieu of seeking medical treatment and take down any similar statements from his website. As of Tuesday morning, however, his YouTube channel remained a repository of debunked and otherwise questionable medical advice, including claims that shots and vaccines are “absolute poison” for children. (Last week, amid a surge in the number of measles cases being reported across the United States, YouTube said that it would stop running ads on anti-vaccine videos but would not remove those videos from the site.)
Morrow’s most popular video, which claims that all illnesses can be traced back to a clogged colon, has been viewed nearly 59,000 times.
In another video, he claims that a tumor takes waste that the body can’t eliminate through the proper channels “and puts it in a capsule so that it doesn’t get into your bloodstream and kill you.” If you have a brain tumor, he goes on to say, you just need to clean out your colon properly and the tumor will eventually move there and be eliminated.
“The reason why you know you don’t have to have surgery to remove a tumor is because you didn’t have to have surgery to put it there,” he concludes.
At least one other person listened to Morrow’s dubious medical advice, KABC reported. After watching television news coverage of the trial, a widower came forward in the middle of February and told police that his wife had declined to treat her cancer with mainstream medical approaches before she died, since Morrow had advised her not to do so. But the judge overseeing the case ruled that the trial was too far along to have another grieving witness testify.
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