31 Jan 2011

Another child victim of Church of the First Born, mother charged with neglect after 9 year old son dies from untreated diabetes

News On 6 - Tulsa, Oklahoma

Broken Arrow Mother Faces Neglect Charges In Son's Death

Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- A Green Country woman's religious beliefs could send her to prison. She's accused of felony child neglect for choosing prayer over medicine for her sick son.

Tulsa County prosecutors have charged Susan Grady with felony child neglect for the death of her 9-year-old son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died in Broken Arrow 18 months ago.

The medical examiner found that he died from complications of diabetes. Investigators say three days before he died, Aaron got very sick.

Witnesses told police he was lethargic, urinating on himself, and breathing hard, but they also say he was still eating. Investigators talked to five people who said they'd visited the boy to pray for him.

The police affidavit says Susan Grady's brother was there when his father tried to get Susan to take her son to the doctor.

According to police records Grady says she knew the boy was very sick, but she didn't consider taking him to the doctor, because she was "trying to live by faith" and she "felt like God would heal him."

The police affidavit says Grady told police she was a member of the Church of the First Born.

The Church of the Firstborn made headlines back in 1999. Tulsa baby Alexis Sandefur was born with cystic fibrosis and a perforated bowel.

Her parents were members of the Church of the Firstborn and refused to get her medical treatment, believing prayer would heal her. The state took custody of Alexis, and she underwent several surgeries against her parent's wishes.

After a nine-month legal battle, baby Alexis left the hospital and went home to her parents. She was terminally ill and died a week later.

The case in 1999 did not lead to criminal charges. Susan Gray is not in police custody, but a warrant for her arrest has been issued.

This article was found at:



Tulsa World - Oklahoma December 31, 2010

Faith-based healing reviewed

The death of a boy whose mother failed to seek medical care puts focus on her church and others.

By BILL SHERMAN | World Religion Writer

Child neglect charges filed against a woman whose son died of untreated diabetes has put the spotlight on a church with a long history of court cases over its rejection of medical aid.

Susan M. Grady, formerly of Broken Arrow, was charged in Tulsa County District Court on Tuesday, 18 months after her 9-year-old son, Aaron, died of complications from diabetes mellitus.

She told detectives she was a member of the Church of the First Born and "believes in faith-based healing through prayer."

The Church of the First Born is one of the most frequent offenders in religion-based child medical neglect, said Dr. Seth Asser, a Rhode Island pediatrician who has published a study about children who died after their parents offered them prayer without medical help.

Asser said the Church of the First Born, well-known in Oklahoma, and Followers of Christ, an offshoot of the church that is located in the Pacific Northwest, together are responsible for more child deaths than any other group.

He estimated that one to two dozen American children die each year because their parents neglect to get them medical help, choosing instead to pray for their healing. That is about 1 percent of all child-abuse deaths.

"It's not a big number, but unlike a lot of the others, these are entirely preventable," he said.

Asser and child advocate Rita Swan worked together on a study of 172 child deaths due to what they called religion-based medical neglect and found that 140 of them would have had a 90 percent chance of survival and 18 others a 50 percent chance of survival with proper medical care.

"Most were ordinary illnesses that no one dies from - appendicitis, pneumonia ... - and many of them died slow, horrible deaths, without the benefit of (pain-relief) medicine," he said.

Swan is a former Christian Scientist who left that church after her young son died without medical attention while a Christian Science practitioner prayed for him. She founded Child Inc. in Sioux City, Iowa, to fight religion-based medical neglect.

"In Oklahoma, the Church of the First Born is the big offender," she said.

Nationwide, her organization knows of six children who died in 2009.

"It's quite haphazard. Many are unreported," she said.

"We're not against prayer," she said. "Parents have a right to pray for divine healing. But when parents see the situation is critical, they have a responsibility to seek medical help in addition to prayer."

Members of the Church of the First Born have been involved in several child-death court cases over the last three decades, including an Enid case in 1982 that motivated the Oklahoma Legislature in 1983 to limit the so-called "religious exemption." The exemption was part of an earlier law that said parents cannot be prosecuted for failure to provide medical treatment for their children, if their decision was based on their religious convictions.

Based on the exemption, an Enid couple was acquitted of manslaughter in the death of their 9-year-old son, who had a ruptured appendix.

Under Oklahoma's current law, parents can rely solely on prayer for their child's healing as long as the child is not in danger of death or permanent physical damage.

Religious groups that eschew medical help are a tiny minority in the United States.

Thomson Mathew, dean of the Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions, described them as misguided.

"They are very much in the fringe today," he said.

"In many cases, they are not theologically trained, and they teach that dependence on medicine demonstrates a lack of faith in God. That puts pressure on people," he said.

He said that worldwide, charismatic and Pentecostal Christians believe in supernatural healing as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But the accepted theological position is that all healing is from God, who heals through both natural and supernatural means.

The merging of medicine and prayer was a major theme in the ministry of Oral Roberts, who founded the former City of Faith medical complex, Mathew noted.

Christian Scientists and Jehovah's Witnesses are two other groups that have found themselves at the intersection of religious freedom and court-ordered medical care.

Leroy Gatlin, with the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Oklahoma, said the death of Aaron Grady was tragic but has no connection to the practice of Christian Science.

He said the Christian Science Church emphasizes the healing power of prayer but leaves it up to the individual to decide the best thing to do under the circumstances.

"For me, the decision regarding the care of children should be made wisely and quickly," Gatlin said. "Certainly prayer is something I naturally turn to as my first option, but not my only option. If I'm not seeing quick and effective results from prayer, I would turn to other options.

"There's no prohibition against seeking medical assistance, ... and it's never God's will for a child to be sick or to die."

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that blood transfusions violate the biblical command not to ingest blood.

Spokesman Mark Snead said the denomination works with doctors and hospitals to use nonblood alternatives to medical care and to make it a rare instance when medical authorities seek court intervention to give blood transfusions to patients who are Jehovah's Witnesses.

Earl Weir, one of the Tulsa leaders at the Church of the First Born, said Wednesday that he doesn't preach about denying medical attention but that God's word proves that faith is all that's needed. He said church members are free to do what they want.

National church leaders did not respond to an e-mail request for an interview.

This article was found at:



Survivor of faith healing church that lets children die tells of spiritual and psychological abuse, advises members to leave

Pastor and lawyer claim religious persecution of parents charged for allowing 2 year old to die from pneumonia without medical care

Philadelphia 'faith healing' parents face criminal charges for letting 2 year old die without medical care

Claims of persecution ridiculous in societies where Christians have special privileges to indoctrinate children

More legal protections needed for sick children whose parents reject modern medicine

Parents plead not guilty in faith-healing death

Faith Healing Parents Assert Religious Rights

Oregon judge rejects attempt to dismiss case against 'faith healing' parents who allowed son to die

Parents who call minister instead of doctor believe they do right

For more articles search for "faith healing" on this blog.


  1. Jury gives mother prison time in death

    BY BILL BRAUN - Tulsa World | Published: May 27, 2012

    TULSA — A Tulsa County jury imposed a 2½-year prison sentence Friday night after convicting a woman of second-degree manslaughter in the diabetes-related death of her ailing son, whose treatment she believed relied upon spiritual means.

    Prosecutors alleged that Susan Grady acted with “culpable negligence” toward 9-year-old Aaron Grady between June 2 and June 5, 2009, by not seeking medical treatment for him.

    Aaron died June 5, 2009, at his family’s Broken Arrow apartment from complications of diabetes mellitus.

    District Judge William Kellough set formal sentencing for June 8.

    Grady, 43, who has been free on bond, was jailed after the verdict was delivered.

    Defense attorney Rob Nigh, who expressed disappointment with the outcome, said he will seek an appeal bond, which would allow Grady to stay out of custody during an appeal. That matter could be taken up at the formal sentencing.

    Grady did not testify.

    In relying on prayer to heal her son, Grady, a member of the Church of the Firstborn, told police in 2009, “I didn’t want to be weak in my faith and disappoint God.”

    Nigh has maintained that Grady’s conduct was not unreasonable, based upon the teachings of her church.

    Assistant District Attorney Ben Fu told jurors in a closing argument that the prosecution “did not put the Church of the Firstborn on trial this week.”

    “This case is about Aaron Grady,” Assistant District Attorney Sarah McAmis said.

    Second-degree manslaughter involves “culpable negligence” — an omission — to do something that a reasonably careful person would do, or failure to use ordinary care and caution in the performance of an act usually and ordinarily exercised by a person under similar circumstances and conditions.

    Kellough instructed jurors that a person may be justified under Oklahoma law in not providing medical treatment for his or her child, if instead the parent, in good faith, selects and depends upon spiritual means alone through prayer, in accordance with the tenets and practice of a recognized church or religious denomination; provided that the treatment or cure is something which a reasonably careful person would do under similar circumstances and conditions.

    “You don’t have a right to let a child die,” McAmis said.

    McAmis and Fu maintained that Grady’s actions were not the actions of a reasonably careful person.

    Second-degree manslaughter carries a possible prison term of two to four years, or a county jail sentence not exceeding one year, a fine not exceeding $1,000, or a fine and imprisonment.

    An offender convicted of second-degree manslaughter is not required to serve 85 percent of the prison time before being eligible for parole or release.


  2. Jury seated in faith healing case

    By K.C. Mehaffey,Wenatchee World staff writer May 9, 2012

    OKANOGAN — Some potential jurors said that Greg and JaLea Swezey have suffered enough, and that they should have never been charged with second-degree murder for the death of their 17-year-old son, Zachery.

    Others said that they couldn’t be impartial knowing that a child may have died because of someone’s religious beliefs.

    Those who expressed such strong opinions were excused from jury duty in Okanogan County Superior Court Tuesday before lawyers picked a jury to determine whether the Carlton couple’s failure to call an ambulance as their son lay dying of a ruptured appendix three years ago constituted criminal neglect.

    As members of the Church of the First Born — which believes in faith healing — the Swezeys did call church elders to pray for him, and anoint him with olive oil in the days leading up to his death.

    “This poor family has suffered enough,” one potentialjuror said during jury selection, adding, “I’d be happy to go on the jury, but the state probably would not want me.”

    Others said the religious aspects of the case or their training as physician assistants, EMTs or others in the medical profession made them biased in a way they didn’t feel they would overcome.

    “Religion don’t mend a broken bone. Doctors do,” one juror said before he was excused.

    “I would give my life to keep a child alive,” said another juror, released from duty.In all, 84 jurors showed up for duty out of 194 called, Judge Chris Culp said. Thirty-six of them were released for cause, including hardships such as medical appointments with specialists, pressing job requirements and family obligations.

    In addition to weeding out potentially biased jurors, Tuesday’s questioning may have offered a first glimpse into how defense attorneys Douglas “Gil” Webber and Chelsea Korte plan to defend the Swezeys.

    But by their questions to jurors and statements in pretrail motions, defense attorneys may steer this trial away from the faith healing controversy, and toward whether as parents, the Swezeys thought they were doing what they could to help their son.

    “This is an allegation by the state that our clients failed to provide medical care for religious reasons, and the child died as a result,” Korte told the potential jurors. “We’re in trial because we believe that’s not what happened here,” he later told them.

    Also during juror questioning, he asked how many of them had ever had the flu, how many had seen a doctor for the flu, and how many of them had called an ambulance for it.

    During pretrial motions, Korte also indicated he would be calling a member of the Church of the First Born to “dispel a misconception” about their beliefs. And, he explained plans for testimony from two young men of the Swezey family, saying, “That testimony consists of the two kids explaining that they have, in fact, had medical treatment.”

    In addition, Greg Swezey is on the defense’s witness list. “He may or may not testify,” Korte told the court.

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    Webber said that the medical testimony was going to be crucial in this trial. He wanted to know whether some jurors would have a difficult time believing the testimony of an Ellensburg doctor scheduled to testify for the defense if his testimony conflicts with that of Dr. Bradley Craig, an Omak doctor who is testifying for the prosecution, and is known by many potential witnesses.

    The attorneys also asked detailed questions of possible jurors who had lost a child, or who had experiences with appendicitis.

    In his questioning, Prosecutor Karl Sloan asked jurors if they might have a bias that would prevent them from being impartial.

    “People have feelings either way. What your general feelings are is not the issue. We all come in with certain biases,” he said, and then asked, “But are those so strong, you couldn’t put those aside?”

    One woman was excused after saying the “religious issue” bothered her. A man told the prosecutor, “I am an appendectomy survivor, and because of my profession — a veterinarian — I don’t think I could weigh this case fairly.”

    But many others remained were somewhere in the middle. As one potential juror put it, “If you’re trying to see what’s right and what’s wrong, it doesn’t seem to be black and white. It seems to be pretty gray.”

    Opening arguments and testimony are scheduled to begin today in front of the newly seated jury of seven women, five men and two alternates.


  4. Faith-healing couple takes plea in son's death

    Associated Press June 7, 2012

    OKANOGAN, Wash. (AP) - A north-central Washington couple on Thursday agreed to accept a plea deal that spares them jail time but holds them responsible for their teenage son's death after they failed to call a doctor.

    A jury acquitted JaLea and Greg Swezey of Carlton of second-degree murder charges for failing to call a doctor or ambulance before their son Zachery died of a ruptured appendix in 2009. However, they still faced manslaughter charges.

    JaLea Swezey pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal mistreatment and received a suspended sentence. Greg Swezey was charged with second-degree criminal mistreatment and his case was continued for two years.

    That charge will be reduced to third-degree criminal mistreatment if he commits no felonies in the next two years, and he also would receive a suspended sentence, The Wenatchee World reported.

    The Swezeys are members of the Church of the First Born, which believes in faith healing.

    Okanogan County Prosecutor Karl Sloan argued during their May trial that all indications showed the Swezeys knew their son's situation was grave. But Greg Swezey testified that he did not know until minutes before Zachery died on March 18, 2009, that his son was dying.

    In developing a plea deal, Sloan said he wanted to ensure protection for the couple's 4-year-old daughter. Under the deal, they agreed to contact Child Protective Services if a child under their care is ill or injured.

    Judge Chris Culp said he felt the case was about responsibility and the role of a parent.

    After sentencing JaLea Swezey, Culp said, "I think today, in no small measure, that Mrs. Swezey, you are taking responsibility for your actions or inactions in a way that hopefully will bring some closure to this really unfortunate chapter."


  5. Parents charged with manslaughter in daughter's death

    By KATU.com Staff Oregon August 29, 2013

    ALBANY, Ore. – An Albany couple has been charged with manslaughter in the death of their 12-year-old daughter.

    Travis Rossiter, 39, and Wenona Rossiter, 37, were charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter.

    Police responded to a call on Feb. 5 that the couple’s daughter Syble had died.

    "They belonged to a belief system called the Church of the First Born," said Capt. Eric Carter of the Albany Police Department. "I'll let you do your own research."

    Last September, ABC reported on the death of 16-year-old Austin Sprout of Creswell, Ore., whose parents were members of the Church of the First Born and pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in his death.

    In the Rossiters's case, detectives investigated for several months and determined the couple withheld necessary and adequate medical attention for Syble, resulting in her death, Carter said.

    Carter said he was unable to elaborate on what caused Syble's death.

    "What our investigation focused on was that it was a treatable condition," he said.

    In the Sprout case, an autopsy found the boy died of an infection caused by a burst appendix. ABC reported that the church echews modern medicine in favor of following a bible passage that says the sick should be prayed over and annointed with oil.


  6. Judge Faith Healing beliefs are evidence in trial

    By Associated Press May 28, 2014

    ALBANY, Ore. (AP) — A Linn County judge has ruled that the religious beliefs and practices of an Albany couple can be used as evidence when they are tried on manslaughter charges in the death of their 12-year-old daughter.

    Travis and Wenona Rossiter are accused of depriving their daughter of life-saving medical care for diabetes. Syble Rossiter died in 2013.

    The Rossiters are members of the Church of the First Born, whose members believe traditional medical treatment is sinful.

    Their lawyers argued their beliefs should be excluded as prejudicial — that they should be tried for their actions rather than their beliefs.

    Judge Daniel Murphy ruled last week that if their beliefs compelled their actions, that's a form of motive evidence, The Albany Democrat-Herald reported Tuesday.

    Murphy called the lawyers' argument unusual and wrote that without the information about their religious convictions, the Rossiters' actions appear "wanton and grossly reckless."

    "The court cannot find that evidence of a religious motive is more prejudicial in this case than the absence of such evidence," Murphy wrote.

    The Rossiters are scheduled for separate two-week trials, his in August, hers in November.

    Murphy previously ruled in favor of a defense motion to exclude information about the death of Wenona Rossiter's brother.

    Anthony Hays, 7, died of leukemia in 1994, and his parents were accused of failing to provide medical care for him. They were the first people in Oregon to be prosecuted in such a case.

    In 1996, a Linn County jury convicted his father, Loyd Hays of Brownsville, on charges of criminally negligent homicide. He was sentenced to five years' probation.

    Hays' wife, Christina Hays, was acquitted.

    Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald


  7. Opening arguments heard in faith healing couple's manslaughter trial

    By Kyle Odegard, Albany Democrat-Herald November 04, 2014

    Opening arguments were heard in Linn County Circuit Court on Tuesday afternoon in the jury trial of an Albany couple — who believe in faith-healing and shun traditional medical care — that are accused of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter for the death of their daughter.

    Syble Rossiter, 12, a Calapooia Middle School student, died in February 2013 from diabetes complications.

    While the prosecution portrayed Travis and Wenona Rossiter as unwilling to provide adequate medical care for their daughter under any circumstances, defense attorneys said the couple thought their child merely had the flu.

    “No one thought she was in danger of losing her life,” said Tim Felling, counsel for Travis Rossiter.

    “This is a tragedy, not a crime,” he added.

    Mark Heslinga, counsel for Wenona Rossiter, said his client also believed that Syble Rossiter was experiencing weight loss because she was growing taller during puberty.

    “She wasn’t alarmed by the symptoms. That’s not what she would have done if she thought her daughter was near death,” Heslinga said.

    Felling said that in the days before she died, Syble Rossiter was playing with her siblings and friends, as usual.

    Deputy District Attorney Keith Stein said the case boiled down to three buttons on a phone — 9-1-1.

    On the day of her death, Syble Rossiter was extremely thirsty and dehydrated, vomited and urinated out everything she took into her system, got so weak she couldn’t stand, and her parents even bought her adult diapers to wear, Stein said.

    “And yet her parents did not seek medical care,” Stein said.

    He said the child also appeared emaciated and a concerned teacher even talked to Wenona Rossiter about it.

    “The cure was like that,” Stein said, snapping his fingers.

    “This is a situation where she could have been saved quite easily by insulin and rehydration,” he added.

    In interviews with detectives, the parents said that, based on their beliefs, they wouldn’t have done anything different.

    Travis Rossiter told a detective if his daughter had asked to go to a hospital, he would have tried to talk her out of it, Stein said.

    He also told a detective that doctors are for people who don’t believe strongly enough in God, Stein added.

    “This case is not about their religion. It’s about the minimum standard medical care that our laws will tolerate when it comes to our children,” he said.

    The trial is scheduled to continue through Nov. 14.