Faith-healing parents acquitted of murder charge

A faith-healing Washington couple accused of being criminally responsible for their teenage son’s death for failing to call a doctor have been acquitted of second-degree murder charges.

However, they could face retrial for manslaughter.

The Wenatchee World reports

As a large sigh rang out across the courtroom, Greg and JaLea Swezey looked anything but relieved when the judge read their three not guilty, and three hung jury decisions Monday night.

Accused of being criminally responsible for their son’s death for praying at his bedside but failing to call a doctor three years ago, the Swezeys were both found not guilty of second-degree murder by an Okanogan County Superior Court jury.


JaLea Swezey was also found not guilty of first-degree manslaughter, while the jury was unable to reach an agreement about whether Greg Swezey is guilty of the crime.

After nine hours of deliberation, the jury also could not reach a decision about whether either Greg or JaLea Swezey are guilty of second-degree manslaughter.

Zachery Swezey was 17 and a junior at Pateros High School when he died at his Carlton home of a ruptured appendix on March 18, 2009, with his parents by his side. In his testimony, and in statements to police, Greg Swezey said he knew 10 or 15 minutes before Zachery died that he was going to die. […]

Outside the courthouse, a tearful JaLea Swezey could be heard expressing concern that Prosecutor Karl Sloan will retry the counts that were left undecided by the jury, as her friends surrounded her to comfort her.

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.

According to The Wenatchee World the prosecution noted the Swezeys called family members and church elders to pray for their son, and suggested the parents should have known after three days of vomiting, diarrhea and a high fever that their son needed medical attention.

Near the end of his rebuttal, Sloan quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson as saying, “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children.”

But throughout the trail, and in closing arguments, Ellensburg attorney Chelsea Korte sewed seeds of doubt over just how sick Zachery was, and whether his parents knew he was dying.

A review hearing has been set for June 4, when Sloan will determine whether to retry the first-degree manslaughter charge against Greg Swezey, and second-degree manslaughter against JaLea Swezey.

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016