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Forewoman: Faith-healers were ‘loving people’

Faith Healing Trial
Carl Brent Worthington and his wife, Raylene Worthington, were acquitted of manslaughter charges in the death of their 15-month-old daughter. The Worthingtons relied on prayer instead of medical care.Rick Bowmer / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The jury forewoman in the trial of an Oregon couple acquitted of manslaughter in their daughter's pneumonia death says she felt the pair were "loving people" who didn't mean to harm the 15-month-old girl.

The jury knew Carl Brent Worthington and his pregnant wife, Raylene, "had no intentions of ever harming their child," Ashlee Santos told reporters on Thursday outside the Clackamas County Courthouse. "If anything, the evidence showed the opposite."

But the jury did convict Carl Worthington of criminal mistreatment, a misdemeanor, for not taking his daughter, Ava, to see a doctor. He faces a maximum of a year in jail when he is sentenced on July 31.

Raylene Worthington was acquitted Thursday of the same misdemeanor charge after six days of jury deliberations that resulted in a deadlock at one point. Santos said she and others felt Carl Worthington was more accountable for the decisions about the child's care.

The Worthingtons are members of a small church that favors faith healing over doctors. 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.

Prosecutors had tried to show the couple's faith led them to deny their daughter medical attention, but the account Santos gave of the deliberations suggested that jurors sympathized with the couple as parents who didn't realize how sick the girl was until it was too late to save her.

Forewoman: Jury had trouble with definition of 'reasonable person'
"I'm a parent," Santos said. "I don't make perfect decisions every time."

Judge Steven Maurer had instructed the jury the standard for deciding whether the Worthingtons met their duty to protect their daughter was whether a "reasonable person" would have asked for medical help.

Santos said that was a tough question for the jury, because everybody has a "different definition of a reasonable person."

It was not the first time the Followers of Christ church has run afoul of the law over attempts to cure children through faith healing.

Religious defense in abuses cases disallowed
In the late 1990s, officials became aware that a large number of church members' children had died, with dozens of them buried in the church cemetery. As a result, the state Legislature passed a law in 1999 that bars a religious defense in most abuse cases.

District Attorney John Foote issued a statement Thursday saying that prosecutors were "saddened and disappointed" by the verdict.

"We continue to believe that the facts are clear in this case," he said, adding that his "office will continue to aggressively enforce the laws that require parents to protect their children regardless of their religious faith."

Foote said his office would not comment further because of a similar case involving relatives of the Worthingtons that is pending.

Four months after Ava Worthington died at home in March 2008, her 16-year-old uncle, Neil Beagley, died of complications from an untreated urinary tract blockage. Beagley's parents, also members of the same church, are scheduled to stand trial in January on charges of criminally negligent homicide.

In the Worthington trial, prosecutors said Ava failed to flourish most of her life because of a neck cyst 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.

But the defense attacked the credibility of the state's expert witnesses and said the child died of a fast-moving blood infection that can accompany pneumonia. The Worthingtons testified that the cyst was a trait in the father's family and that they thought their child only had a cold.

The trial was the first test of the 10-year-old Oregon law that bars legal defenses based on religious practices in most abuse cases.

Carl Worthington, who goes by his middle name, Brent, and other church members refused to speak to reporters after the verdict.