Worthington jury deadlocked; will reconvene Tuesday
The judge in the faith-healing trial of Carl and Raylene Worthington sent jurors home this afternoon after they sent a note saying they were deadlocked on all charges.
The jury will reconvene Tuesday in hopes of reaching a verdict in the death of 15-month-old Ava Worthington, who died of complications from pneumonia and a blood infection after multiple faith-healing sessions at her parents’ home in Oregon City.
“We remain to be a hung jury on all counts,” read the note to Clackamas County Circuit Judge Steven Maurer.
Maurer noted that although jurors have been deliberating since Thursday, they completed a review of the evidence only today.
At least 10 jurors must agree to reach a verdict, either to acquit or convict. If at least 10 jurors cannot reach a consensus, the result is a hung jury. In that case, prosecutors would choose whether to try the case again.
The Worthingtons are charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminal mistreatment for failing to provide adequate medical care for their daughter.
They are members of the Followers of Christ Church, which shuns conventional medicine in favor of faith healing practices.
The Followers of Christ Church got national attention a decade ago when the number of child deaths among parishioners was brought to light.
The ensuing media coverage led to the removal of Oregon’s spiritual healing shield, which protected parents who used prayer instead of medicine to treat deadly diseases.
See also this opinion article by Steve Duin, writing in The Oregonian:
Is that a doctor in the witness box?
As the issues of crime, punishment and the death of Ava Worthington head to a Clackamas County jury, those 12 men and women will contemplate a precious irony:
The parents who would not summon a doctor to their home to save their child called a doctor to the witness stand to save themselves.
Carl Brent and Raylene Worthington relied on half-baked spiritual remedies when their daughter was at risk, but their lawyers have resorted to garden-variety defense tactics in an effort to spare these parents the cost of discipleship.
Defense attorneys did not celebrate the Worthingtons’ religious convictions. Instead, they called on family members and Dr. Janice Ophoven, a forsenic pathologist, to denigrate the county’s medical conclusions about why the 15-month-old died.
The medical experts and autopsy photos — like the parents’ comments to detectives in the 48 hours after Ava’s death — are not to be believed. The jury was tendered a second opinion, that a trifling cold morphed so quickly into “a flash flood” of bacterial infection that a dash to the emergency room wouldn’t have saved the child’s life.
The verdict will turn, then, not on the parents’ insistence on spiritual healing, but whether the jury places its faith in the county’s doctors or the Worthington’s doctors.
That’s a curious twist in what Detective Jeff Green of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office calls the “first reasonable test” of the Legislature’s 1999 decision to repeal the religious exemption to laws regarding the abuse, neglect and death of children.
Death of 16-Year-Old Highlights Spiritual Healing Laws
In October, 2008, cousins of the Worthingtons were charged with criminally negligent homicide in the faith healing death of their 16-year-old son, Neil Jeffrey Beagley.
Neil died June 17 from complications of a urinary tract blockage, according to medical examiners. The condition, which doctors say is easily treatable, caused kidney and heart failure.
The Beagleys belong to a religious sect known as the Followers of Christ Church, which rejects medical treatment and, instead, relies on prayer. Several relatives who were with Neil Beagley at the time of his death told police that he had refused medical care, according to the Gladstone, Ore., police.
A 1998 study in the journal Pediatrics found that 172 children died without receiving medical care because of religious reasons from 1975 to 1995. Of those, 140 children had a greater than 90 percent chance of survival if they had been treated, according to the study, conducted by Rita Swan, director of Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty, and Dr. Seth Asser, formerly of the pediatrics department at the Univesrsity of California, San Diego.
Asser said his research shows that more than 60 children whose parents are members of the Followers of Christ Church died between 1955 and 1998, which he said was roughly four times the Oregon state average.
Neil Beagley’s niece, 15-month-old Ava Worthington, died in March from an infection after her parents treated her with prayer.
• Faith healing and the law, Opinion by Susan Nielsen: “I think Oregon should review its faith-healing laws one more time. Ten years have passed since the last big revision. Legal battles in other states, including overturned convictions and revised laws, could be instructive to Oregon. It’s possible we could refine our laws even further to retain wide latitude for parents, regardless of their beliefs, while also beefing up legal protections for sick children whose parents reject modern medicine.”