OREGON CITY, Ore. – A judge on Monday rejected defense arguments that claimed selective and vindictive prosecution in the manslaughter trial of a couple whose 15-month-old daughter died of pneumonia while they prayed for her recovery.
Clackamas County Circuit Judge Steven Maurer told lawyers for Carl and Raylene Worthington that he had already determined the Oregon City couple had a duty to seek medical care for their daughter, Ava, despite their religious beliefs.
"There are limits, especially when it comes to the protection of young children," Maurer said.
The couple face manslaughter charges in the death of Ava, who died of pneumonia in March 2008. A state medical examiner has said she could have been treated with antibiotics.
In their arguments, defense attorneys Mark Cogan and John Neidig said six other unrelated deaths of young children in Clackamas County that had not been prosecuted. They argued that no charges stemmed from those deaths because those children's parents were not members of the Followers of Christ Church.
The Worthingtons are members of the small Oregon City church, which advocates spiritual healing instead of medical care. It was the focus of an investigation a decade ago after a series of child deaths, resulting in a change to state law limiting exemptions for prosecution in faith healing deaths.
Maurer said the deaths cited by the defense were "dramatically different" because they were accidental or the parents sought medical care, including one child suffering from pneumonia who died in a hospital emergency room.
The key in the Worthington case was the failure to provide medical care when there is a "compelling state interest" in protecting the health of children, the judge said.
Maurer said there was no evidence that church members were treated differently.
The judge also denied a defense request asking to restrict crime scene and autopsy photos because they could prejudice a jury. He ruled that their context could be explained by expert witnesses and that those types of photos are often disturbing but commonly accepted as evidence.
Jury selection was expected to begin later this week. The trial was scheduled to start June 23.
If convicted on the manslaughter charges, the couple faces up to 10 years in prison.