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Faith-healing pair acquitted of manslaughter

Faith Healing Trial
Carl Brent Worthington and his wife, Raylene Worthington, who relied on prayer instead of medical care dodged manslaughter convictions in the death of their 15-month-old daughter are shown leaving court Thursday in Oregon City, Ore. Rick Bowmer / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Oregon couple who relied on prayer instead of medical care were acquitted of manslaughter Thursday in the death of their 15-month-old daughter.

The jury convicted the father, Carl Brent Worthington, of criminal mistreatment, a misdemeanor carrying a maximum sentence of a year in jail. The mother, Raylene Worthington, was acquitted in the 2008 death of their daughter Ava.

Both had faced manslaughter charges, which could have carried a sentence of up to six years in prison. The mother also was acquitted of criminal mistreatment.

The prosecution said Ava Worthington failed to flourish through most of her life because of a cyst on her neck that impeded her breathing and eating, contributing to her fatal pneumonia. She died on a Sunday evening after family and church members prayed over her and anointed her with olive oil.

The state medical examiner said she could easily have been saved with antibiotics.

‘They’re not monsters’
But the defense attacked the credibility of the state's expert witnesses and said the child died of a fast-moving form of sepsis, an infection. The Worthingtons testified that the cyst was a trait in the father's family and that they thought their child only had a cold.

Jurors saw the Worthingtons as loving, caring parents, said 25-year-old juror Ashlee Santos.

"They're people. They're not monsters," she said at a press conference at the Clackamas County courthouse. "They had no intention of harming their child. They're good parents."

She said the father was convicted of criminal mistreatment because the mother wasn't monitoring the girl as closely as he was, so he was more responsible for her condition.

During the trial, the defense made a point of noting that in families of the Worthingtons' church, the Followers of Christ, husbands make all important decisions.

District Attorney John Foote said Thursday prosecutors were "saddened and disappointed," convinced the facts were clear in this case, and determined to be aggressive in enforcing "laws that require parents to protect their children regardless of their religious faith."

The Followers of Christ shuns conventional medicine in favor of faith healing. The church has been in Oregon City since early in the 20th century. Its members, by their own description and that of others, keep to themselves.

First test of law
The trial was the first under a 10-year-old Oregon law that bars legal defenses based on religious practices in most abuse cases. The law was a response to previous deaths among young members of the Followers of Christ.

The jurors reported on Monday that they were deadlocked on all the charges, but Judge Steven Maurer sent them back to deliberate. Under Oregon law, the verdicts required only 10 votes among the 12-member jury. The jury included eight men and four women.

Throughout the trial, which lasted nearly four weeks, members of the church were in the gallery. Courtroom crowds ranged from about 40 people to as many as 80. Carl Brent Worthington and other church members refused to speak to reporters after the verdict was announced.

The husband, who goes by Brent, is a commercial painter. Raylene Worthington is a homemaker and is pregnant.

After Ava's death, their surviving daughter, then 4, got a medical checkup at the insistence of Oregon child welfare workers, one of whom testified at a hearing last year the girl was in good health.

The father's sentencing is scheduled July 31.