Charges follow faith-healing death

Denver Post Western Slope Bureau/March 10, 2001
By Nancy Lofholm

Grand Junction -- Charges have been filed against the parents of a 13-year-old girl who died from a common infection that turned into gangrene after her parents opted to treat her with prayer but not medicine.

Randy and Colleen Bates, members of the General Assembly Church of the First Born, were issued summonses Friday on charges of criminally negligent homicide, reckless manslaughter, reckless child abuse resulting in death, and criminally negligent child abuse resulting in death.

Church of the First Born members believe there is a biblical injunction against medical treatment. They treat illnesses and injuries with prayer.

Amanda Bates, one of the Bateses' 11 children, died Feb. 6. Someone at her home called 911 early that morning to report an unattended death. Paramedics were able to revive the skeletal youngster, and she was kept alive until evening on machines at St. Mary's Hospital and St. Luke's Hospital in Denver. An autopsy showed she died from complications of diabetes, which include an increased risk of infections. Amanda's infection began with an easily treated vaginitis, which eventually spread and turned to gangrene.

Randy and Colleen Bates could not be reached for comment Friday, and Church of the First Born elders have not returned requests for comment since Amanda's death.

In the past, church elders have said that when prayer fails to heal an illness and a child dies, they believe it is God's will, and they believe that child is simply sleeping in peace until Judgment Day.

Mesa County District Attorney Frank Daniels filed charges after reading more than 500 pages of investigative reports from the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, viewing videotaped interviews, and reviewing information from Mesa County Coroner Dr. Rob Kurtzman, who ruled Amanda's death a homicide.

Amanda's death occurred days after the introduction of a bill in the Colorado legislature that would make it easier to prosecute parents who withhold medical treatment from children who are in danger of dying or being disabled. Her death has been cited numerous times in the push to change the law.

A loophole in the current Colorado law exempts parents from prosecution if they use faith-healing methods that are recognized as legitimate by the Internal Revenue Service and major insurers. That effectively exempts Christian Science parents but not other faith-healing religions, including the Church of the First Born. Prosecutors say the exemption muddies the law and makes it difficult to prosecute any cases.

With the current law, Daniels said, "the state of Colorado has been endorsing a lifethreatening practice. . . . My hope is if the law is changed, there won't be any more Amanda Bateses."

There have been attempts to remove the exemption and clarify the law since it was passed in 1989. Those attempts were shot down under heavy lobbying by Christian Scientists. The current bill has been passed by the House and will be heard in the Senate Health, Environment, Children and Families Committee on Thursday. Since 1974, 12 children of Church of the First Born parents in Colorado are known to have died or been stillborn after medical care was withheld.

But Randy Bates, 38, and Colleen Bates, 36, are only the third set of Church of the First Born parents to be prosecuted in Colorado in the deaths of their children after medical treatment was withheld.

David and Barbara Sweet of Olathe were convicted of felony child abuse after their 7-year-old daughter, Angela, died of an infection caused by a ruptured appendix in 1990.

Joshua and Mindy Glory pleaded guilty to criminally negligent child abuse resulting in death after their 18-day-old son, Warren, died of pneumonia and meningitis in 1999.

The children's deaths have occurred in Montezuma, Montrose, Delta and Mesa counties - the areas of the state with the largest concentrations of Church of the First Born members.

Randy and Colleen Bates are scheduled to appear in Mesa County Court on March 29 to be advised of the charges against them.

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