August 3, 2000 - GRAND JUNCTION - The death of Billy Ray Reed, the infant who died recently after being denied medical care on religious grounds, could likely have been prevented with treatment, but will not be classified a homicide.
Mesa County Coroner Dr. Rob Kurtzman has determined Billy Ray died on July 9 from respiratory problems caused by a common birth defect of the heart that is rarely fatal if treated.
But because he can't determine for certain how noticeably severe the 3-day-old infant's symptoms were before he died and can't say for sure that medical intervention would have saved him, Kurtzman has classified the manner of Billy Ray's death as "undetermined."
"I favor homicide (as the classification), but I don't feel as if I am able to get to that threshold," Kurtzman said. "To call this a homicide, I have to be sure a lifethreatening condition was recognized." The undetermined classification does not mean that Billy Ray's parents, Billy and Barbara Reed of Clifton, won't be prosecuted for following the anti-medical-care beliefs of the General Assembly Church of the First Born and not seeking medical help for their baby.
Mesa County District Attorney Frank Daniels said he has not determined if he will prosecute the Reeds as he did the First Born parents of another Mesa County infant who died after being denied medical treatment in February 1999.
"Without question, Dr. Kurtzman's finding is a weighty factor to be considered. I will take his position into consideration along with information from the Sheriff's Office," said Daniels.
Despite Colorado law that Daniels said makes the prosecution of these cases "very murky," in some cases treating religious faith-healing as legitimate, Daniels did charge Joshua and Mindy Glory, the parents of Warren Trevette Glory.
Warren was 18 days old when he died after not being treated for pneumonia and meningitis. His death was classified a homicide because the symptoms of his illness that lasted several days would have been clearly recognized as life-threatening.
Six months ago, the Glorys pleaded guilty to criminally negligent child abuse resulting in death. They were placed on probation for 16 years and ordered to provide medical treatment as needed for their surviving child. The certainty that parents recognized a dying baby sets the two cases apart.
But there are also similarities. Elders prayed When both babies showed signs of serious illness, church elders were called to pray over the infants. As their church dictates, the elders also anointed the sick babies with oil and confessed their own faults to bolster the power of their prayers.
The Reeds, Barbara, 23, and Billy, 31, and other church members who had been helping them since Billy Ray's birth on Friday, July 7, first called elders to pray for the baby early Sunday morning. He appeared gray and listless and had difficulty breathing as his heart was losing the ability to pump oxygenated blood to his lungs.
Kurtzman said at this point if Billy Ray had received treatment, such as supplemental oxygen and nutrition, he likely would have survived. Billy Ray's condition improved and declined during the day, and elders came and went.
When the baby was having serious trouble breathing shortly after 6 p.m., a call went out to the First Born church in Palisade, where a service was taking place. Church elders rushed to the Reed trailer and prayed, but the baby stopped breathing and turned blue. Someone at the trailer called 911. The Reeds have three other children ages 1, 3 and 5. A 2-year-old child died in June in a camper fire started by the children playing with butane lighters.
Following that death, the Mesa County Department of Human Services ordered the Reeds to move their remaining children out of the home they occupied because the house was reportedly filthy and filled with trash. "It was very bad," said Mesa County sheriff's investigator George Barley. The Reed family moved to the trailer in Clifton where Billy Ray died. Billy Ray's death has prompted a new outcry for legislation that would make it easier to prosecute parents who withhold medical care from seriously ill minors.
Colorado parents currently can be prosecuted for child abuse only if it can be proved they knew the child's life was in danger or there was a risk of serious disability.
Colorado law is also muddied by a religious exemption that specifies faith-healing treatments recognized as valid by the IRS and insurance companies - in other words, Christian Science treatments - are considered as legitimate as standard medical treatments.
Legislators who unsuccessfully tried to pass a Colorado law in 1993 that would have made it a clear crime to withhold standard medical treatment from any child at risk of dying or being disabled say a clear law is still needed.
"I just really object to what these people are doing to these little children. We need to change the statute," said outgoing House Speaker Russell George, R-Rifle.