Two members of an Oregon City faith-healing church were charged Thursday with first-degree criminal mistreatment for failing to provide medical care for their infant daughter.
Timothy and Rebecca Wyland pleaded not guilty during a brief appearance before Clackamas County Circuit Judge Robert D. Herndon and were released without bail.
The charges were expected. During a custody hearing last week, a prosecutor disclosed that the Wylands had been indicted by a grand jury.
Child-protection authorities took custody of the couple’s 7-month-old daughter, Alayna, after she developed a growth over her left eye that ballooned over several months to the size of a tennis ball and threatens her vision.
The Wylands did not speak in Thursday’s hearing. Rebecca Wyland previously testified that she anointed Alayna with oil but never considered taking her daughter to a doctor.
Alayna is in temporary custody of the Oregon Department of Human Services and lives in a foster home while medical professionals treat her condition and develop a care plan. The child welfare agency placed the girl in protective custody June 30 after receiving an anonymous tip that she was in peril.
Under Oregon law, it is a crime for parents to intentionally and knowingly withhold necessary and adequate medical attention from their children. First-degree criminal mistreatment is a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
The Wylands are the third couple from Followers of Christ Church to face charges in a year.
They are accused of allowing a growth of blood vessels the size of a tennis ball to cover the eye of their 7-month-old daughter, jeopardizing her vision.
The couple’s church shuns professional medical help in favor of such rituals as anointing the sick with oil – as Rebecca Wyland has told a judge she did with her daughter.
The mass of blood vessels is called a hemangioma. A doctor has testified in a custody hearing that the growth pushed the child’s eyeball down and outward.
A cluster of criminal prosecutions in recent years has followed decades of contention in Oregon over the Followers of Christ, whose early members had roots in Pentecostalism and came from Kansas under a charismatic leader in the 1930s.
The state medical examiner’s office has estimated that in the past 30 years, more than 20 children of church members have died of preventable or curable conditions.
In 1999, after intense debate, the Legislature ended a spiritual healing defense, allowing parents to be prosecuted. Since then, Clackamas County officials have investigated a few deaths of newborns.
The deaths of two relatives in 2008 led to prosecutions.
In March 2008, 15-month-old Ava Worthington died of pneumonia and a blood infection that doctors said could have been treated. Her parents, Raylene and Brent, were acquitted last summer of manslaughter charges. Brent Worthington was convicted of criminal mistreatment and served two months in jail.
In June 2008, 16-year-old Neil Beagley died of complications from a congenital urinary tract blockage, treatable up to the day he died, in the opinion of doctors. His parents, Jeff and Marci, were convicted of criminally negligent homicide and are serving 16-month sentences. They are the parents of Raylene Worthington.