Did Keeping Their Faith Kill Their Child?

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

OREGON CITY, Ore. (CBS/AP) - A few days after her toddler died, Raylene Worthington told detectives that the child had been choking on phlegm.

But on the witness stand Monday, accused of using prayer instead of medicine to heal her increasingly ill child, Worthington said she didn't remember the 15-month-old girl choking at all.

Worthington contested or said she didn't remember several points from interviews with police on the night of the death and two days later.
"I was exhausted and shocked, and it wasn't a good state of mind to answer questions, I would say," she said.

Worthington and her husband, Carl Brent Worthington, are members of the Followers of Christ, a small church that shuns medical care in favor of prayer and faith healing rituals such as laying on of hands.

They are accused of manslaughter and criminal neglect in the death of their daughter, Ava, who died last year of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection, according to the state medical examiner. They put their faith in spiritual healing instead of doctors, say the prosecutors.

If convicted on the manslaughter charges, the couple faces up to 10 years in prison.

Photo: Ava Worthington

In court Monday, a prosecutor read from police interview transcripts that quoted Raylene Worthington as saying Ava was "choking on phlegm" and a "little chokey." But on the witness stand, Worthington testified that she couldn't think of any time when the child was choking. She said she couldn't recall what she meant to convey in the interviews with investigators.
"I don't know, because I'm not sure what I meant," she said.

She was one of the final witnesses in the trial, expected to go to the jury this week.

The Worthingtons have 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 testifying for the prosecution, said Monday the child had long suffered from medical neglect.

The prosecution says Ava 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, weakening her for the diseases that killed her.

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Photo: Carl and Raylene Worthington

Raylene Worthington said she did not think the mass was a threat. Two women in her husband's family had had them, and it didn't appear to be 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.

"She had no chance," Leonhardt said. "Even after she stopped breathing, she was given no chance to breathe."

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

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

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

At an earlier hearing, the judge said the key in the Worthington case was the failure to provide medical care when there is a "compelling state interest" in protecting the health of children.

07/14/09 - Dad Who Chose Prayer Over Doctors 'Shocked' by Daughters Death