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Faith-Healing Parents Plead Guilty in Death of Newborn Daughter

07-10-2018

The parents of a twin girl who refused to seek medical treatment when their baby couldn't breathe and opted instead for prayers by family and friends, pleaded guilty Monday to negligent homicide and criminal mistreatment in their daughter's death.

Travis Lee Mitchell and his wife Sarah are members of an Oregon church that rejects modern medical treatment.  They had originally been charged with murder by neglect and criminal mistreatment in the 2017 death of their premature baby.

Each received almost seven years in prison with credit given for 13 months in custody while awaiting trial and for good behavior. In addition, they will also serve three years of probation after leaving prison.

The case marked the fifth time in Clackamas County in nine years that a child has died in the religious community known as the Followers of Christ Church.  Several members of the church have been convicted of crimes for failing to seek medical care for their children, according to The Oregonian

But this case ended differently. The Mitchells not only agreed that they failed to provide the necessary medical care for their baby but also said in a statement read by one of their attorneys "everyone in the church should always seek adequate medical care for our children.''

Walter White, Sarah Mitchell's father and a leader in the church, signed the statement which will be posted inside the church for all members to read under the terms of the plea agreement.

The couple's newborn named Ginnifer, died March 5, 2017, from complications of premature birth. The state medical examiner found the girl's lungs to be "airless." She had suffered from acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Bryan Brock called the outcome of the case, with the couple accepting responsibility and issuing a public statement, a "landmark resolution.''

"These are senseless and avoidable deaths, and we keep asking ourselves what will it take'' to convince others in the church to get the right medical care for their children, Brock told The Oregonian.

He said he hoped the message will be for church followers to "seek medical attention and prayer. They're not mutually exclusive.''

The parents are accepting responsibility for their actions "knowing a price must be paid,'' Sarah Mitchell's lawyer Stephen Houze told the newspaper.

Prosecutors said the little girl was born two months premature and died after four and a half hours struggling to breathe.  

"I knew she was dead when she didn't cry out anymore,'' Travis Mitchell said, according to court documents.

Even though several members of the church witnessed the birth, no one sought to seek medical attention or dial 9-1-1.

During Mitchell's seven-month pregnancy, prosecutors said she never received prenatal care or took any supplements even though the couple had medical insurance.

In contrast, according to The Oregonian, the couple did seek regular veterinary care for their dog and cat, the prosecutors wrote in court papers.

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