Father Guilty of Lesser Charge in Oregon Child's Faith-Healing Death

An Oregon couple who relied on prayer instead of medical care dodged manslaughter convictions 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 their daughter Ava's 2008 death.

Both had faced manslaughter charges, which could have carried a sentence of up to six years in prison.

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.

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 family trait among the father's family and that they thought their child only had a cold.

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

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.