Faith-healing Ore. father sentenced to 60 days in jail; must choose doctor for other children

Ore. faith-healing father gets 60 days in jail

OREGON CITY, Ore. — An Oregon City man convicted of criminal mistreatment in the faith-healing death of his young daughter was sentenced Friday to 60 days in jail and ordered to provide medical care for his other children.

Carl Brent Worthington and his wife and co-defendant, Raylene, must choose a pediatrician to care for their 5-year-old daughter and the child the couple are expecting soon.

The couple must allow regular checkups and treatment, along with allowing the doctor and school officials to consult with the probation officer for Carl Worthington for the duration of his sentence.

The conditions were set by Judge Steven Maurer, who also sentenced Worthington to five years on probation.

A jury convicted Carl Worthington of the misdemeanor charge of criminal mistreatment after acquitting the couple of felony manslaughter charges in the March 2008 death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, from pneumonia and a related blood infection that could easily have been cured with antibiotics.

“Make no mistake, this is a serious crime,” Maurer said during sentencing on Friday. “The defendant left his vulnerable and defenseless daughter in harm’s way.”

Raylene Worthington was acquitted of the mistreatment charge but the jury forewoman said afterward that was because Carl Worthington was responsible for making decisions in their family.

The couple belong to the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, which avoids doctors in favor of spiritual healing.

But the church has suffered a long series of child deaths that prompted the Oregon Legislature in 1999 to limit a faith healing defense to criminal charges.

The Worthington trial in Clackamas County Circuit Court was the first test of the law.

The jury and its verdict have been widely criticized in letters to newspapers in the area, along with blogs, saying the couple should have taken their child to a doctor.

One of the jurors said afterward he would have voted differently if he had known about the other faith-healing deaths of children in the church.

Maurer noted during sentencing the couple might have argued they believed their constitutional right to freedom of religion exempted them from prosecution in the death of their daughter before a similar Oregon case in 1996 drew national attention.

“This is not 1996, this is 2009,” Maurer said, calling the death of the couple’s daughter “an unnecessary tragedy.”

He said the law is well settled when it comes to a conflict between religion and the health and safety of children.

“As a society we have a moral and legal obligation to protect our children,” Maurer said.


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