‘This was not a faith healing death,’ lawyer tells jury

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Gregory and Garnet Swezey of Carlton, Washington are on trial on charges of second-degree murder in the death of their 17-year-old son.

Zachary Swezey died of a burst appendix while his parents and other church members prayed for his recovery, and failed to call a doctor or ambulance.

The Swezeys are members of the Church of the First Born, which is part of a group of churches known for their extreme views regarding faith healing.

Covering their trial, the Wenatchee World the jury heard two very different versions describing Zachary’s last days:

As members of the Church of the First Born, the Swezeys told police that they believe in faith healing, and they and other church members prayed for their son and called elders to anoint him with oil before he died. They did not call a doctor or an ambulance.

But these calls for prayer and anointment aren’t reserved for people who are dying, the Swezeys’ lawyer, Chelsea Korte, told the jury. “It’s commonly used for all manner of illnesses,” said.

Korte said the Swezeys thought their son had the flu, and they thought he was getting better. “Ladies and gentlemen, this was not a faith healing death,” he told them.

In the prosecution’s version, Zachery was a very sick boy, with severe stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea over the two and a half days leading up to his death. He was so sick he needed help making it to the bathroom, and could not control his bowel. So sick that his parents moved him first to the couch, and then to their own room. And family members came and stayed to help care for him. His fever was so high that he went without clothing, and soaked the sheets with sweat, Okanogan County Prosecutor Karl Sloan told the jury.

In the end he was delirious. He asked for his father. His hands turned blue. His breathing slowed, and he died, Sloan said.

“At no point, even then, was any medical assistance called for. No ambulance. Nothing,” he said.

Doctors who have seen hundreds of cases of appendicitis and dozens of ruptures have never had a patient die of it, he told them. “It’s a preventable death, easily, with medical attention,” he said. “That failure to obtain treatment was the direct and ultimate cause of Zachery’s death,” he told the jury.

Korte painted a very different picture.

He told the court that people who seek medical care aren’t kicked out of the church or penalized in any way.

He also said that when Zachary, also a member of the Church of the First Born, wanted to see a doctor he refused.

The Wenatchee World notes

Korte said if you ask the Swezeys what they would have done if they knew it was a ruptured appendix, and that their son was dying, “They both say, they don’t know. They would like to think that their faith is strong enough that they could rely upon it. But even now, three years later, they don’t know.”

But although this might have been a faith healing case, it wasn’t, he said, because the Swezeys didn’t know their son needed medical attention.

“To establish either one of these charges — either murder or manslaughter — either one requires proof that these folks were reckless. That they knew there was substantial risk, and they ignored it,” he said.

Meanwhile the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle reports

The third day of a second-degree murder trial involving a Carlton couple led to discussion of a mistrial and the jury being abruptly dismissed. […]

Thursday’s testimony included Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office Detective Kreg Sloan, who told of how he came to send probable cause to the prosecutor. […]

But when questioning brought out Child Protective Services had conducted a “parallel investigation” into the death and the church, and Korte asking Kreg Sloan if he relied on rumor, Karl Sloan objected. Superior Court Judge Chris Culp dismissed the jury and quickly ended the morning’s testimony.

“I don’t understand what happened here, but we need to refocus on this witness,” Culp said.

“The door has been blown open,” Karl Sloan said of defense questions on other information Kreg Sloan used to base his findings. That information, though allowable in an investigation, is not allowed in trial.

Karl Sloan said defense questions about material that was inadmissible in court was an “unfair characterization” of Kreg Sloan, and that there was “no way to unring that bell” and suggested a mistrial. […]

The trial for the Swezeys … continued in the afternoon with about two hours of defense witnesses.

The packed courtroom – half a dozen people stood due to 40-plus people filling the benches – was admonished prior to starting by bailiff Mary Horner for loud comments during the proceedings.

The state was to bring Dr. Bradley Craig to the stand before resting.

The trial continues Friday. If the Swezeys are convicted, they could face life in prison and/or a $50,000 fine.

Lack of Faith

While some churches claim their members are free to seek medical help, their teachings taken in context tend to show that reliance on medical aid or medicines is viewed as unbelief, insufficient faith, or even a sin against God.

What the Bible teaches about faith healing

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016