An Oregon City couple who tried to heal their mortally ill daughter with prayer walked hand-in-hand into a Clackamas County courtroom today and pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment.
Authorities believe Carl Brent Worthington, 28, and Raylene Marie Worthington, 25, are the first parents prosecuted since Oregon cracked down on faith-healing deaths nine years ago. If convicted, they could spend more than six years in prison.
Ava Worthington died March 2 at home from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection, according to Dr. Christopher Young, a deputy state medical examiner. He said both conditions could have been prevented or treated with antibiotics. The child's breathing was further compromised by a benign cyst that had never been medically addressed and could have been removed from her neck, Young said.
The Worthingtons are being prosecuted under revisions to Oregon law passed in 1999 to remove religious exemptions from state child-abuse and homicide statutes.
The crackdown came after several children of members of Oregon City's Followers of Christ Church died from medically treatable conditions in 1997 and 1998.
Of dozens of children buried since the 1950s in the Followers of Christ Church cemetery south of Oregon City, at least 21 could have been saved by medical intervention, according to a 1998 analysis by The Oregonian. None of the deaths from that era, including the high-profile case of an 11-year-old boy who died from untreated diabetes, resulted in prosecution.