Timothy, Rebecca Wyland guilty of criminal mistreatment in faith-healing trial

A jury spent one hour deliberating Tuesday before unanimously finding an Oregon City couple guilty of felony criminal mistreatment for treating their infant daughter with faith-healing rather than taking her to a doctor.

The parents are members of the Followers of Christ Church, theologically a cult of Christianity, whose extreme faith healing beliefs and practices have left a trail of dead children in its wake.

Writing in The Oregonian, Steve Mayes reports:

Timothy and Rebecca Wyland face up to five years in prison but are likely to receive probation and possibly some time in jail. They will be sentenced June 24.

As the verdict was read, Timothy Wyland slipped his arm around his wife’s waist, and the couple stoically faced the judge. The Wylands made no comment after the proceedings. They walked out of the courtroom surrounded by supporters from their church, some of them sobbing.

The couple’s daughter, Alayna, was born in December 2009 with a birthmark above her left eye that developed into abnormal growth of blood vessels, known as a hemangioma, that slowly engulfed her left eye and produced a goopy discharge. Despite the growth and accompanying loss of vision, the Wylands did not consult a doctor.

Jurors had the option of convicting the Wylands on the lesser charge of second-degree criminal mistreatment, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

The case is the latest involving members of Oregon City’s Followers of Christ Church, which considers medical treatment a rejection religious faith. The Wylands are the third church couple to be prosecuted over the past two years for failing to provide medical treatment to their children.

In two previous cases, the children died. In the Wyland case, 18-month-old Alayna has improved under court-ordered medical care.

The swift and unanimous verdict stunned the Wylands, their attorneys and about 20 church members in attendance. […]

Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote, who has had several faith-healing trials under his watch, released a short statement: “We agree with the jury’s verdict and appreciate their service. There is another case pending trial so we will have no further comment.”

Foote was referring to another couple from the church whose son was born prematurely and died nine hours later. They are scheduled to go trial in September on charges of second-degree manslaughter.

Dale R. Hickman and Shannon M. Hickman pleaded not guilty in August 2010 to manslaughter charges for failing to provide medical care to their infant son, who died shortly after his premature birth.

According to the Associated Press the Wyland’s defense lawyers Mark Cogan and John Neidig declined comment:

Cogan told jurors the Wylands were the victims of inflexible bureaucrats and religious persecution because of their faith-healing beliefs.

The defense also focused on the couple’s actions after the state intervened last summer. They portrayed the Wylands as loving parents who fully cooperated with court orders, taking the child to doctor’s appointments and giving her prescribed medication.

However, lead prosecutor Christine Landers told jurors in her closing argument that the defense was just a smokescreen.

The couple had 6 ½ months to seek medical attention before the state intervened but they did not, Landers said. Because of their faith, “they never would have,” she said.

Last month the Oregon Senate joined the House in passing a measure sparked by the Followers of Christ Church deaths.

Under current law, spiritual treatment can be used as a defense against some charges.  House Bill 2721 would eliminate those defenses and parents choosing faith healing over medical treatment for a child who dies could face tough mandatory sentences. It is expected that the bill will quickly be signed into law.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday June 8, 2011.
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