Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Faith-healer parents accused of manslaughter

Last updated July 1, 2009 2:36 a.m. PT

Medical examiner: Ore. girl appeared malnourished

OREGON CITY, Ore. -- A 15-month-old girl whose parents' church shuns doctors in favor of faith healing appeared to be malnourished after her death from pneumonia, a deputy medical examiner testified in the manslaughter trial of her parents.

Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington of Oregon City are members of the Followers of Christ Church and are accused of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment in the death last year of their child, Ava.

The state medical examiner said she could easily have been saved with antibiotics.

It was the first case brought under Oregon's 1999 law that rejects a religious defense for most abuse cases and was drafted mostly in response to groups such as the Followers of Christ.

The trial opened on Monday, with the lawyers for her parents saying the couple thought the girl was getting better as they and other members of the church went through faith healing rituals - such as prayer and anointing her with oil.

Her body was examined by Jeffrey Mayer, a deputy medical examiner.

On Tuesday, Mayer said he went to the girl's bedroom on the night she died and saw a humidifier and fan running and a TV tray containing a red liquid he assumed was wine plus olive oil. He said both are commonly used as part of the faith-healing practices of the congregation.

Mayer said the girl appeared to be malnourished, with protruding ribs and with a weight "not consistent with peer weight."

Mayer also told of a cyst-like growth on the girl's neck, which prosecutors say was caused by her lymphatic system struggling against infection.

"I have never seen anything like that in my experience," he said, and described it as the size of a baseball.

Mayer testified that he deals frequently with members of the church because attending physicians aren't present when they die. It's up to his office to sign the death certificates, he said.

He said about 200 people, whom he assumed to be church members, had gathered at the home just east of Oregon City on March 2, 2008, a Sunday night. Others put the number closer to 100.

Mayer played taped interviews he had with the Worthingtons hours after their daughter died.

The parents told him the girl had never seen a doctor and not been given over-the-counter medication.

Photos taken by investigators in the parents' bedroom just outside Oregon City showed the girl's body, in pink pajamas and slippers, almost doll-like, crosswise at the top of her parents' bed, where she normally slept.

In the interview, Raylene Worthington said she noticed the swelling on Ava's neck getting worse during her daughter's final days. She also said Ava developed a cough and it worsened.

Ava weighed 10 pounds at birth. She weighed just 16 pounds when she died.

Carl Brent Worthington said his wife was with their daughter on their bed when Ava died. Both said the cough was worse in her last days, especially when she was lying down, but she seemed healthy otherwise. Her mother described her as "a good eater," which caused prosecutors to ask about her apparently emaciated condition.

"They said she had quit breathing," her father said of that Sunday night, when church members had begun to gather at their home, but said he didn't know who told him.

He said he ran to the bedroom but neither he nor anybody else gave CPR or called 911.

Asked during the taped interview why, he said, "She was already gone. I anointed her."

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