Religion

Christian faith-healing couple sentenced to prison for daughter’s death

The parents of a twin baby girl who died hours after being born at their home pleaded guilty this Monday to negligent homicide and and criminal mistreatment, The Oregonian reports.

Over the past 9 years in Oregon’s Clackamas County, 5 criminal cases involving the deaths of children affiliated with the Followers of Christ church have emerged, yet this is the first one to end with charged and a plea deal. The parents, 25-year-old Sarah Elaine Mitchell and 22-year-old Travis Lee Mitchell, were both sentenced to six years and eight months in prison.

In their plea deal, the Mitchells admitted that they failed to provide the necessary medical care for their daughter, who was born prematurely, and even called on fellow church members to “always seek adequate medical care for our children.”

When The Oregonian first reported the story in June of 2017, it described a scene where a baby was in distress while the parents refused to call 9-11.

According to a court affidavit, the couple said the baby became “less fussy” after being alive for about 4 hours before it suddenly stopped breathing. The mother had given birth at her parent’s house. A church elder reportedly contacted the medical examiner’s office when the child died, but no one bothered to call a doctor when the baby was under duress. A coroner’s report revealed the child died due to lung problems resulting from a premature birth.

Child deaths have plagued the church for years. The Oregonian reports that members “believe the sick will be anointed by elders and that their faith will heal all ailments. Death, if it comes, is God’s will.” Responding to the spate of deaths, the Oregon legislature disallowed religious beliefs to be a court defense for homicide charges that result from the practice.

Throughout her pregnancy, Sarah Mitchell received no prenatal care and took no supplements, even though the couple had medical insurance through Travis Mitchell’s job. The couple did however seek veterinary care — which included vaccinations, wellness checks — for their dog and cat according to prosecutors.

“We hope that this office is never again forced to prosecute parents in the Followers of Christ Church for neglecting the medical care of their children,” the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

“However, we continue to stand ready to do so if the members of that congregation do not heed the call of this family.”

Featured image via Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office

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