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Mixed Blessing: Parents Beat Manslaughter Charge in Baby's "Faith Healing" Death

(AP Photo/Doug Beghtel)
Photo: Carl and Raylene Worthington

OREGON CITY, Ore. (CBS/AP) Their prayers to save their dying daughter went unanswered. But an Oregon jury has shown mercy on an Oregon couple on trial for using prayer instead of medicine in their failed attempt to save their 15-month-old girl.

Carl Worthington was convicted of criminal mistreatment Thursday, a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in jail. His wife, Raylene Worthington, walked free.

The couple had faced manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges, the former carrying up to 10 years in jail.

The Worthingtons are members of a Followers of Christ, a small church that shuns conventional medicine in favor of faith healing. The couple was accused of using prayer and faith healing rituals such as "laying on of hands" instead of medicine to heal their increasingly ill child.

(CBS)
Photo: Ava Worthington

The Worthingtons had argued the child was sick with a cold but not seriously ill, and that she was showing improvement shortly before she died of a fast-acting infection.

Dr. Dan Leonhart, a Portland pediatrician who testified for the prosecution, said the child had long suffered from medical neglect.

The prosecution said Ava Worthington was born a robust baby at 10 pounds and 21 to 22 inches. That put her in the 95th percentile among babies in a measurement of weight and height. She died 15 months later at 16 pounds and 26 inches, and in the bottom 5th percentile, the prosecution said.

Dr. Leonhardt and other doctors say a cystic growth on Ava's neck - first noticed when she was about 3 months old - impeded her breathing and weakened her for the diseases that ultimately killed her.

(AP Photo/Randy L. Rasmussen)
Carl and Raylene Worthington hold hands during opening statements on Monday, June 29, 2009.

Raylene Worthington said she did not think the growth was a threat. Two women in her husband's family also had them and she didn't believe it was harming Ava, she said.

Leonhardt said the child could have been saved at almost any point, including after she stopped breathing on March 2, 2008. He said there was no effort to revive her with rescue breaths, CPR or a call to 911.

The child's father, Carl Worthington, testified that in the hours before his daughter died of pneumonia, he didn't lose his faith, which he called a gift from God. But Carl Worthington wouldn't say whether he would have done anything differently or taken the 15-month-old to a doctor last year.

Carl Worthington said that the family and church members who gathered at the home drew on all of their faith-healing practices: anointing the girl with oil, giving her a dab of wine with water, calling church members for prayers, and fasting and praying over the girl three times in her final 24 hours.

It is the first prosecution brought under Oregon's 1997 law that bars religious defenses for most abuse cases.

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