Faith healing couple to be released from prison

KATU, Oregon City/March 30, 2011

Oregon City, Oregon -- An Oregon City couple convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the death of their teenage son will be released from prison on Wednesday.

Jeff and Marci Beagley were found guilty last year of failing to seek medical help for their 16-year-old son, Neil, who died in June 2008. The young man died of kidney failure after developing a urinary tract infection.

The Beagleys are members of the Followers of Christ church. Members shun conventional medicine in favor of faith healing. The church has been in Oregon City since early in the 20th century. Its members, by their own description and that of others, keep to themselves.

State authorities have found that an unusual number of children whose families belonged to the Followers of Christ have died at an early age, leading to a 1999 state law that limits faith healing as a defense in such deaths. The trial of the Beagleys was the second major test of the new law.

Greg Horner, the chief deputy district attorney in the Beagleys case, also prosecuted the faith healing trial of the couple's daughter, Raylene Worthington, and her husband, Carl Brent Worthington.

The Worthingtons were acquitted of manslaughter in the March 2008 death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, from pneumonia and a blood infection, but Brent Worthington was convicted of misdemeanor criminal mistreatment.

The Beagleys were present at the death of their granddaughter, laying on hands after anointing her with oil and praying for her to be healed, instead of seeking medical care that church members avoid. The same scenario occurred on the night their son died: 100 people were reported to be in the home, laying hands on the teen, praying and handing out a ceremonial wine.

When the Beagleys were sentenced last year, the judge in the case, Steven Maurer, had harsh words about the Followers of Christ church and its members.

"Too many children have died unnecessarily," he said at the time. "There is a graveyard full of their bodies and it has to stop, it just has to stop."

Two other families associated with the church are facing legal troubles as well. Timothy and Rebecca Wyland are charged with criminal mistreatment for not taking their daughter, Alayna, to a doctor for treatment of a large growth over her eye. Also, Shannon and Dale Hickman have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter after their son died of an infection in 2009 just 10 hours after he was born. Shannon Hickman's grandfather is the founder of the Followers of Christ church.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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