OREGON CITY, Ore. — An Oregon couple who practice faith healing testified they did everything they could for their 16-year-old son before he died, but a jury decided it was not enough, especially just months after the death of their granddaughter.
Jeff and Marci Beagley were convicted of criminally negligent homicide this past Tuesday after prosecutors argued they failed in their duty to get medical help for their son, Neil, in June 2008.
The teenager died of complications from a congenital urinary tract blockage that doctors testified could have been treated up until the day he died.
The Beagleys' 15-month-old granddaughter, Ava Worthington, died in March 2008 of pneumonia and a blood infection that also could have been treated.
Instead, Neil and Ava were anointed with oil while the family prayed and laid on hands.
The toddler's parents, Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington, were acquitted of manslaughter last year after a trial that tested a change in Oregon law in 1999 resulting from a public outcry over a series of child deaths among members of the Followers of Christ Church.
Brent Worthington, however, was convicted of criminal mistreatment and served two months in jail.
The Beagleys and their daughter, Raylene, and son-in-law, Brent, are all members of the small church with roots in Kansas but now is based in Oregon City. Followers of Christ avoid doctors in favor of faith healing.
Family and church members packed the small courtroom where Clackamas County Presiding Judge Steven Maurer read the guilty verdicts delivered after less than two full days of deliberations.
Some gasped and others held back tears while Marci Beagley cried quietly.
Now she and her husband face a possible 16 to 18 months in prison under state sentencing guidelines, although defense attorneys plan to ask for probation. The Beagleys remain free pending their sentencing on Feb. 18.
Brent Worthington said just after the verdicts that the family had no plans to comment on the trial.
But one of the defense attorneys, Wayne Mackeson, insisted the trial was about the care they provided as parents, not about their beliefs.
"It's never been a referendum on the church. This case involves parents who didn't understand how sick their child was," he said.
Mackeson and fellow defense attorney Steve Lindsey argued during the two-week trial that Neil Beagley had symptoms more like a cold or the flu, and his parents responded by making sure he rested, was fed and drank plenty of fluids.
But doctors testified the urinary tract blockage let those fluids and toxic waste build up inside the teenager's body, virtually destroying his kidneys and eventually causing his heart to stop.
Doctors, including a deputy state medical examiner, said it was the first such death in their experience because the problem is usually spotted before a child is born, or shortly afterward. But Neil Beagley had never been taken to a doctor, and his mother did not see any doctors before he was born.
Maurer ruled early in the Beagleys' trial that prosecutors could introduce some evidence from the previous trial of the Worthingtons, and prosecutors frequently referred to the death of Ava Worthington.
In closing arguments, Greg Horner, the chief deputy district attorney who also prosecuted the Worthingtons, said the Beagleys "ignored the lesson that cost their granddaughter her life."
District Attorney John Foote said his office would have no comment until after sentencing.