3 Nov 2010

Verdict in 'faith healing' baby manslaughter case a miscarriage of justice

Oregon Live - The Oregonian   July 27, 2009

The Worthington verdict: a miscarriage of justice

by David Beard, guest opinion

THE OREGONIAN The grave of Ava Worthington at the Followers of Christ cemetery south of Oregon City.

The greatest legal system in the world doesn't work when 12 jurors ignore the facts and the law and fail to hold defendants responsible for their actions.

The collection of 12 people who served as the jurors in the Worthington faith-healing case are a sad and misguided group who completely failed the citizens of Clackamas County and beyond. Juries are asked to evaluate the evidence and apply the law, no more, no less.

This jury failed miserably. Several of the jurors indicated that they empathized with the Worthingtons. But empathy is not in the job description, nor are the jurors charged with deciding if a defendant is a "good" person. That's irrelevant.

The jury foreperson, Ashlee Santos, revealed that she thought the word "manslaughter" isn't pretty. If she had any integrity she should have disqualified herself before the trial, instead she facilitated a huge miscarriage of justice. Personally, I'm not bothered by the word "manslaughter." What I don't think is "pretty" is a 15-month-old baby with a grapefruit-size cyst on her neck struggle to breathe through thick phlegm while dying a slow death.

The jury also believed that the Worthingtons were certain in their belief that Ava wasn't in trouble, which is also irrelevant. It's also a lie. The Worthingtons have no medical training. And if they didn't think their daughter was pretty sick, I doubt they would have turned their house into a 24-hour-a-day prayer vigil with a revolving door for other church members.

These jurors ensured that a few more children in Oregon City will have to die before some jury has the integrity to uphold the law and say "no" to the Followers of Christ church. The blood of Ava and that of the children in this church who die in the future is on the hands of Santos and her cohorts.

The Worthingtons' defense strategy is called "jury nullification." Their attorneys convinced 12 people to simply overlook the truth and applicable law and let the Worthingtons off. This same strategy worked for O.J. Simpson, who was let free only to commit another crime, escalating to guns the second time. It is unfortunate that these jurors can't be prosecuted for what is nothing less then obstruction of justice, and then made to pay restitution to Clackamas County for what was spent on a rightful and just prosecution.

The jurors failed to see the hypocrisy of the Worthingtons' inability to call a doctor to help Ava, while having no qualms about flying one in to testify on their behalf.

The Worthingtons' belief system is based on whatever will prevent them from being held responsible for their actions. Real believers don't hide behind their religion and twist it to their liking. They stand up for it and accept the consequences.

These jurors also pushed women's rights back 50 years, when they determined that only the husband was responsible for outcome and that Raylene couldn't possibly be expected to dial 911.

Ava didn't choose this religion, and we'll never know if she would have. But I'm confident that if you asked Ava whether she wanted to live or die, she would have chosen life. I'm not sure for whom this was a jury of peers. I pray that a more rational jury pool is available when Raylene's parents go on trial for the death of their child. And it scares me to know that these 12 jurors are actually allowed to walk around town without adult supervision. I guess they were the children who were "left behind."

David Beard lives in Northwest Portland.

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The Daily Vanguard - Portland's student run newspaper July 28, 2009

The right to kill your child

How far should freedom of religion go?

Nicole Egland | Vanguard staff

The mother: not guilty on all charges. The father: guilty of only criminal mistreatment. That kind of verdict makes me sick. Thank goodness I have parents who cared enough to take me to the doctor.

Most people have heard of the now famous case from Oregon City, where Carl and Raylene Worthington, the parents of 15-month-old Ava Worthington, were recently tried for manslaughter for Ava’s death after they refused to take their sick daughter to a physician. The Worthingtons cited a religious defense, testifying that, as members of the Followers of Christ Church, they believe in faith healing and not conventional medicine.

This case is not short on shocking twists and turns. For one thing, this is not the first death among children within this church. Larry Lewman, a former medical examiner for the state of Oregon, alleges that during a 10-year period, 25 children died due to lack of medical care. The Oregonian ran an investigation that claimed that 21 children buried in the church’s cemetery died preventable deaths.

Freedom of religion is a right that absolutely must be protected in this country. However, can we protect people who knowingly cause harm to innocent children in the name of their religious doctrine? Where does this end? Sanctioned sexual abuse because it’s part of someone’s faith? If a neighbor reports the severe physical abuse of children next door, do we look the other way when the parents claim that beating their kids is OK due to the nature of their beliefs?

I am a Christian myself, who believes in God’s power to heal. That doesn’t mean that if my baby had pneumonia that I would not rush him or her to the doctor. I don’t tempt God by saying, “Well, if you really cared about my baby, you would heal her.” I’m not arrogant enough to place Jesus-like abilities in my reach. I trust that God put medicine on this earth for a reason, and I’d do whatever I could to protect my child.

Ashley Santos, a juror for the trial, says that Carl Worthington was found guilty on one charge because someone had to be held responsible. Yeah. Someone does. So why acquit them both of what they were accountable for? It’s hypocrisy—they aren’t responsible for her death, but they are? And placing the blame on the husband is a gross misrepresentation. I can say with 100 percent certainty that if my husband did not agree with me bringing my very sick child to the hospital, I wouldn’t care. Children come first. Period.

I am only mildly comforted by District Attorney John S. Foote’s affirmation that the state would continue to fight for the protection and rights of children. As long as the public can be manipulated into thinking that child abuse can be justified by religious claims, these kids will never be safe.

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