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By Jessica Bruder
Religion News Service

OREGON CITY, Ore. — A couple who tried to heal their dying daughter with prayer walked hand in hand into a crowded courtroom Monday and pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment.
Carl Brent Worthington, 28, and Raylene Marie Worthington, 25, are the first parents prosecuted since Oregon cracked down on faith-healing deaths nearly a decade ago. If convicted, they could spend more than six years in prison.
The Worthingtons, members of Oregon City’s Followers of Christ Church, barely spoke a word as Judge Kathie Steele explained the charges. In subdued voices, they answered “yes” and “yes, your honor” to acknowledge they could face prison time, then dodged television cameras as they left the courtroom.
They remain free on $250,000 bonds. A trial is set for mid-June.
Their 15-month-old daughter, Ava Worthington, died at home March 2 from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection. Both conditions could have been treated with antibiotics, according to Dr. Christopher Young, a deputy state medical examiner.
Ava’s breathing was further compromised by a benign four-inch cyst on her neck that had never been medically addressed, Young said.
The Followers of Christ, a non-denominational congregation with roots in the 19th-century Pentecostal movement, came under state scrutiny in the late 1990s after several church children died from medically treatable conditions. The deaths prompted state lawmakers to remove religious shield laws for parents who treat gravely ill children solely with prayer.
A spokeswoman for the Christian Science Church, which lobbied for Oregon’s original faith-healing shield laws, acknowledged that the church has been following the Worthington case but declined to comment.
Between 1999, when the new law took effect, and the Worthington case, prosecutors found no incidents of significant medical neglect among Followers of Christ Church members.
A grand jury brought two charges: second-degree manslaughter and second-degree criminal mistreatment. The parents’ “failure to provide medical care caused the death of their daughter; that’s what the grand jury’s charged them with,” explained chief deputy district attorney Greg Horner.
The Worthingtons reportedly also have a young daughter.
On Monday, a pair of defense attorneys representing the Worthingtons said they were waiting to see reports and evidence in the case and wouldn’t comment on the charges.
“They’re presumed innocent at this time, and we ask that no one prejudge them,” said attorney John Neidig, who represents Raylene Worthington. “They have not had the time to breathe properly since this tremendous tragedy, and we hope to provide them with a little privacy and respect.”
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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