A Lane County Juvenile Court judge placed Russel and Brandi Bellew's six children in temporary state custody on Friday as part of a plan that allows the youngsters to live with relatives while their parents fight allegations that they failed to take a dying son to a doctor because of their religious beliefs.
Barred by court officials from contacting each other, the Bellews sat 6 feet apart — with an attorney seated between them at a table — and did not appear to even glance toward each other during a brief hearing before Judge Eveleen Henry.
Lane County sheriff's deputies arrested the Bellews on Feb. 10, after a grand jury indicted the Creswell couple on second-degree manslaughter charges in the death of 16-year-old Austin Sprout.
The teen died in December of a medical condition that investigators have characterized as highly treatable, but which went untreated because of the couple's religious beliefs. Authorities have declined to release his exact cause of death.
The family attends the General Assembly and the Church of the First Born in Pleasant Hill, which generally believes in using prayer instead of medical care to treat illnesses.
Sprout was Brandi Bellew's biological son and Russel Bellew's stepson.
Family members bailed the Bellews out of jail on Tuesday. But a jail release agreement prohibits the married couple from contacting each other or any children — including their own — while their criminal cases are pending.
Henry said Friday in court that state Department of Human Services workers might be able to persuade court officials to modify the release agreements to allow the Bellews to visit their children, the oldest of whom is a teenager and the youngest of whom is 8 months old.
Henry scheduled an April 16 "fact finding" hearing in the case.
Until then, the children will remain together in the same home while being cared for by relatives. State child welfare workers will check in with the family periodically.
Technically, the children are now in temporary protective state custody, and the relatives responsible for their care are considered the youngsters' foster family.
While he said he could not provide specific information about the Bellews' case, Department of Human Services spokesman Gene Evans said safety is the agency's top concern in all cases involving children. Officials typically want to find responsible adult family members to care for children who cannot live with their parents, Evans said.
"We look for ways to reduce the trauma, because it is a traumatic experience for kids to have their parents removed from them," Evans said.
Brandi Bellew, 36, and her 39-year-old husband face mandatory prison sentences of six years and three months if convicted of second-degree manslaughter.
Under state law, the charge is defined in part as causing a dependent person's death by neglect or maltreatment.
The Bellews are due back in court on March 19 for a pretrial hearing.