The Case of Hannah Overton

S. Michael Craven

S. Michael Craven

S. Michael Craven
Center for Christ & Culture

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, 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.”

j0402579Hannah’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 feel 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 anything other than “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 at, 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.

S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture. Michael is the author of Uncompromised Faith (Navpress).The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit the Center for Christ & Culture.

7 Responses to “The Case of Hannah Overton”

  1. Dear Mr. Craven,

    Thank you so much for writing about Hannah. She is my eldest niece and I am just one of her extended family and large circle of friends and supporters who have been moved and transformed by her ordeal. There is no doubt that this has been an ordeal — for Hannah, her husband Larry, their five remaining children, her parents, other family, church and friends. We've all had many dark nights of the soul and continue to have them. But when we turn to God, as Hannah has done over and over and over again, we see that there is hope, and that this situation is being used for God's purposes in ways that none of us could have imagined. I saw Hannah briefly just yesterday and was once again relieved to see her healthy and strong in her faith. She's a petite woman and but she seems much taller these days.

    We got the news that her first appeal was denied at the beginning of this month (Nov 09) after waiting a year from the date of oral arguments. Everyone reeled from the emotional blow, but we have emerged stronger and more determined than ever to serve God's purposes in this matter.

    It would be an understatement to say that this has been an eye-opener for us about the legal system in the USA. Putting it bluntly, it's broken. In the USA, 1 out of every 100 adults is in prison or jail — more per capita than any other developed country. Something is out of whack. The reasons are many and complex, among them a climate of conviction-at-all-costs in police departments and prosecutors' offices and a complete lack of accountability for prosecutors in particular. Mind you, this is not the cause that I would have chosen for myself, anymore than this is the ministry Hannah would have chosen! But it is what God chose for us.

    Because of this experience, while Hannah ministers to the women in prison with her, I've joined with hundreds across the country who have experienced wrongful convictions and other criminal justice issues. We are forming a non-profit, the National Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform to bring many people and organizations together to effect change. In Corpus Christi, another non-profit, In The Interest of Justice, has been formed and they are reaching out to inform average citizens about the responsibilities and rights of jurors. New chapters of that organization are forming in other cities as well.

    Specific to Hannah's case, we are in the process of updating what people can do to help. Prayer helps! Donations of any amount are appreciated — that money is used to buy gas so Larry can go see her each week (a 600 mile round trip), buy groceries for her family, and help offset the large legal costs. Letters to the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, may also be of help and eventually make a difference, in a water-on-stone kind of way. It's OK to write him more than once! If people will simply write and say that they are concerned about Hannah's case, that can help.

    You or any of your readers are welcome to contact me any time at [email protected].

  2. If the story is as you portray it, then yes, an injustice has been done and should be remedied. However, all of the people attempting to remedy this particular injustice should also act when someone is prosecuted unjustly because they are an atheist, a Muslim, or a satanist. These things happen constantly and no one raises an eyebrow, but it happens to a Christian and everyone is suddenly up in arms. That, in itself, is an injustice.

  3. Excuse me? There are a great many people who raise more than an eyebrow at injustices! I'm one of them and I find your comment both inaccurate and offensive!

  4. So last year when the father was accused of murdering his children and the prosecutor wanted to bring in evidence that he had a satanic bible, where were the church groups up in arms trying to oust the prosecutor for trying to unjustly use the father's supposed religious beliefs against him in court? They were trying to oust the judge because the judge rightfully barred any mention of the father's supposed religious beliefs from the courtroom. So what I said isn't inaccurate at all, although the fact that it occurs regularly across the country is quite offensive.

  5. No one can know about all cases! That a case isn't known about by people who do raise their eyebrows at injustices, does not make your statement true. Injustice happens across the country to tons of people, not just to “some” people! So don't try to say it only happens to a select group and ask that it be believed!

  6. I would be fighting for and donating money to Hannah Overton whether she was a Christian or an Atheist, to me that has absolutely no bearing on this case. She is obviously innocent, it is one of the saddest stories I have ever read.

    I am afraid the locals were a little brainwashed by all the media hype before the case and they simply will not listen to reason.

  7. I would be fighting for and donating money to Hannah Overton whether she was a Christian or an Atheist, to me that has absolutely no bearing on this case. She is obviously innocent, it is one of the saddest stories I have ever read.

    I am afraid the locals were a little brainwashed by all the media hype before the case and they simply will not listen to reason.