Parents plead guilty in 'faith healing' death

KVAL News 13, Oregon/September 18, 2012

Sprout died after his appendix burst in December. Lane County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested Brandi and Russel Bellew (Sprout's mother and step-father) in February after a seven-week investigation into the death.

"The investigation has determined that medical professionals believe that the illness he suffered was treatable if he had been provided medical care," said Capt. Byron Trapp from Lane County Sheriff's Office.

The Bellews are members of the "general assembly and church of the firstborn," a church that believes in healing through faith and prayer rather than seeking medical care.

"That is what the arrests are based on, is the withholding of medical care in this case that allowed Austin to die." Capt. Trapp said.

Last year, the Oregon legislature changed the law regarding faith healing. Now, faith-based healing can no longer be used as a defense against manslaughter charges.

The District Attorney's office worked with church leaders over the past seven months to draft a plan on how to educate the congregation about the law.

Assistant District Attorney Eric Hasselman said that as part of the plea the couple are ordered to follow an in-home safety plan set up by the Department of Human Services to ensure their other children's safety. A probation officer is set to work with the family as well.

"We spelled out certain circumstances under which, if their child was ill or debilitated, they need affirmatively to seek medical care under the situations" Hasselman said.

Hasselman added that in the DA's meetings with the General Assembly and Church of the First Born, congregation leaders said that a person in the church would not be punished or ostracized for providing medical care for their family.

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