Couple sentenced to 10 years in daughter’s faith healing death

An Albany, Oregon couple who believes in faith healing were sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday in the death of Syble Rossiter, their 12-year-old daughter.

The girl died of diabetes complications in February 2013 after her parents withheld treatment in favor of prayer.

Travis and Wenona Rossiter, who still have two minor children, belong to the Church of the First Born — part of an informally organized religious denomination which embraces an extreme, unbiblical view of faith healing.

At their trial, the couple claimed they thought their daughter — who went through severe weight loss and appeared emaciated before she died — merely had the flu.

Last November a jury found both Wenona and Travis Rossiter guilty of manslaughter in the first and second degree.

Church of the First Born

Since 1976, at least 82 children linked to the Church of the First Born have died from a lack of medical treatment, says Child Healthcare is a Legal Duty — an organization that lobbies against state laws that protect parents who choose faith healing over modern medicine.

The unnecessary deaths have resulted in a number of criminal prosecutions.

The church says it does allow members to seek medical aid, but former members explain that those who do so tend to be shunned. Seeking medical aid is considered to be a sign of ‘weak faith’ or even sinning against God by not trusting him for healing.

Followers believe that if someone they prayed for does die, it was God’s will.

When district attorney Keith Stein asked Wenona Rossiter, “Do you believe that it was God’s will for Syble to die?,” she replied, “Yes.”

Oregon Law Regarding Faith Healing

Largely in response to a series of preventable ‘faith-healing’ deaths at a similar denomination, Followers of Christ Church, the Oregon legislature changed the law regarding faith healing.

House Bill 2721, which went into law June 9, 2011, allows parents to treat their children through prayer as long as they do not have life-threatening conditions. However, it eliminates reliance on spiritual treatment as defense to certain crimes in which the victim is under 18 years of age. Effectively it means a reliance on faith healing can no longer be used as a defense against manslaughter charges.

After the sentencing, Mark Heslinga, Wenona Rossiter’s counsel, told the press that the judge did not want to apply the 10-year prison sentence, but that he felt constrained by Measure 11, Oregon’s mandatory minimum sentencing law.

Tim Felling, Travis Rossiter’s attorney, said the sentence would be appealed.

Faith-healing beliefs to be used as evidence in manslaughter trial

A judge has ruled that religious beliefs and practices can be used as evidence in the manslaughter trial of a couple charged in the faith-healing death of their 12-year old daughter.
Travis and Wenona Rossiter
Travis and Wenona Rossiter are accused of only praying with Syble Ann Marie Rossiter and not providing her with adequate medical care.

The girl died in February, 2013 of type 1 diabetes.

Syble Ann Marie Rossiter

Syble Ann Marie Rossiter


Police arrested the Albany, Oregon couple last August on charges of first-and second-degree manslaughter.

At a court hearing last April defense attorneys sought to exclude evidence of religious beliefs or practices during the couple’s trial.

The Rossiters belong to the Church of the First Born, which eschews modern medicine in favor of faith healing.

The church, near Brownsville, Oregon, is part of the General Assemblies and Church of the First Born a small Pentecostal ‘denomination’ of sorts.

The movement’s teachings regarding faith healing are extreme and unbiblical. They have led to unnecessary deaths, which have resulted in a number of criminal prosecutions.

Since 1976, at least 82 children linked to the Church of the First Born have died from a lack of medical treatment, according to the group Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty, an organization which lobbies against state laws that protect parents who choose faith over modern medicine.

In his May 20 opinion letter Judge Daniel Murphy wrote that if the Rossiters religious beliefs compelled their conduct, than this was a form of motive evidence and relevant.

Without their religious convictions, the Rossiter’s actions appear “wanton and grossly reckless,” Murphy wrote.

The couple will be tried together rather than separately.

Oregon law regarding faith healing
Other recent cases involving the Church of the First Born

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