OREGON CITY, Ore. (AP) — Lawyers on Tuesday gave sharply contrasting biographies of a 15-month-old Oregon girl whose parents believe in faith healing and are charged with manslaughter in her death.
The prosecution’s closing argument said that Ava Worthington of Oregon City suffered much of her life from a cyst that grew to softball size and squeezed her windpipe and esophagus so that she had difficulty breathing and getting food down — and that after months of stunted development she died of pneumonia. Prosecutor Steven Mygrant said the girl’s parents, Carl Brent and Raylene Worthington, failed to provide the medical care that Oregon law requires.
“They refused to acknowledge that obligation, that responsibility, that duty we have when we bring children into this world, in this state,” Mygrant said.
The defense, however, said the child was “a fat baby” with a healthy appetite, playing vigorously with older children, growing out of her clothes — and dying of sepsis, inflammation stemming from infection, that enveloped her like a flash flood.
The Worthingtons are members of the Followers of Christ, an independent church that shuns conventional medicine for spiritual healing practices such as the laying on of hands and anointing the sick with olive oil.
The Worthingtons are accused of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment. Under Oregon law, a conviction requires only 10 votes from the 12-person jury, which is expected to get the case Wednesday.
The defense also criticized the autopsy in the case while the prosecutor said the medical examiner was incorrect in saying in March 2008 that sepsis was a cause of Ava Worthington’s death.
In the girl’s final moments, nobody tried to revive her or call an emergency squad, Mygrant said.
On the weekend she died, he said, “there were three separate occasions when they laid on hands. That’s their 911 call.”
He added, though, that the couple is not on trial for their religious practices but rather for medical neglect.
The trial is the first in the decade since the Oregon Legislature passed a law that bars spiritual healing defenses in most abuse cases, a response to child deaths among churches such as the Followers of Christ.
At least two people left an Oregon City courtroom in disgust Tuesday morning and many others lowered their heads, averting their eyes, as the heavy breathing of quiet crying permeated the room when prosecutors showed startling and graphic photos on large television monitors of a neck dissection during 15-month-old Ava Worthington’s autopsy.
The dramatic photos were shown during the final hours of the three-week trial of Carl Brent and Raylene Worthington, who are charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence in the March 2, 2008, death of their ailing daughter.
The Worthingtons’ tiny daughter died at about 7:15 p.m. in her parents’ bed from a blood infection and pneumonia. She also had a large cyst growing on the right side of her neck — described as the size of a man’s wallet — that prosecutors and doctors said could have choked her and left her malnourished.
…[D]efense expert witness Dr. Janice Ophoven of Minnesota cast doubt last week on Deputy State Medical Examiner Christopher Young’s autopsy methods, saying that by removing the chest organs and cutting the bottom of the airway, the tension in the neck was lost and Young couldn’t know the actual orientation of the neck muscles and organs before his dissection.
During cross examination, defense attorney Mark Cogan, who represents Carl Brent Worthington, repeatedly asked Young if he felt his qualifications in assessing Ava’s corpse were equal to those of Ophoven, with 30 years specialty experience in autopsies of children.
“This particular case, the association between a mass and the compression on the airway and the resulting pneumonia that ensued and finding the same infection in the blood, the connection between all this is so rudimentary that a first year medical student could (see it),” Young said.