Parents charged in death of teen

The Wenatchee World/February 9, 2012

Okanogan -- Carlton parents who police say unsuccessfully tried to faith-heal their son back to health have been charged with second-degree murder.

The charges against Gregory P. Swezey, 47, and Garnet JaLea Swezey, 45, in Okanogan County Superior Court come nearly three years after Zachery, 17, died of a burst appendix at their home on March 18, 2009.

The family belongs to the Church of the First Born, which believes in faith healing. The day before Swezey died, elders from the church came to the Swezey home, prayed for him, and anointed him with olive oil.

The boy had been sick for two-and-a-half days before he died. His father told police that they first thought he was ill from a sandwich that didn't taste right, and later believed he had the flu.

But charging documents, filed Feb. 2, also indicate that Greg Swezey told investigators he knew 10 to 15 minutes before his son died that he was going to die. He also told detectives that he asked his son if he wanted to go to the hospital, and Zach declined.

"Family members were aware that Zach was seriously ill prior to his death," said a report filed with charges from Okanogan County Sheriff's detective Kreg Sloan. "Family members were also aware that Zach was going to die before his death; yet there was no effort, at any time, to obtain medical assistance," the report stated.

But Greg Swezey also told police that they don't force their faith on their children. "Our kids have a choice. At no time did Zachery ask to go to the doctor. In four months, he will be 18," the report quotes Swezey as saying soon after his son's death.

The report also said that the mortality rate for appendicitis is estimated at between 1 and 2 per 100,000 people, and that it is medically treatable.

"The (state) Court of Appeals determined, in part, that the failure to seek medical care would not be justified on religious grounds," the report said.

Prosecutor Karl Sloan, who is Kreg Sloan's brother, said this morning that he based his decision to charge the Swezeys on state law that finds faith is not a reason for failing to seek medical attention for your children.

"We have to try cases sometimes that are very unpopular," he said, adding that decisions to charge someone cannot be based on public sentiment.

He said unless prosecutors reach a plea deal with the Swezeys, it will be up to a jury to determine whether they should be held accountable for their son's death.

Sloan also filed an alternative first-degree manslaughter charge. A criminal summons file Monday requires the Swezeys to appear in court to hear charges against them on March 5.

Sloan said a heavy caseload, which included other murder cases, prevented his office from filing charges sooner. He said the Swezeys were not considered a flight risk, and the community's safety was not at risk.

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