Prosecutor: Faith-healing choice hurt child

Associated Press/May 27, 2011

Oregon City, Oregon - A prosecutor charged Friday that an Oregon City couple watched a growth over their infant daughter's left eye balloon into a golf ball-sized bulge but didn't seek medical treatment because that conflicted with their religious practices.

In her opening statement, prosecutor Christine Landers said the child's father, Timothy Wyland, told a detective that "sometimes God heals, and sometimes God lets children die."

Timothy and Rebecca Wyland are members of the Followers of Christ, a congregation that relies on faith healing. They were charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment after the growth over their daughter Alayna's eye went untreated until a court ordered her taken to a doctor.

Defense lawyer John Neidig told the Circuit Court jury that the couple are loving parents who became victims of overzealous child welfare workers at the Oregon Department of Human Services. He says the couple believed the growth would shrink and then vanish as their daughter grew.

The little girl, now 1 years old, has improved under court-ordered medical treatment for a hemangioma, an abnormal buildup of blood vessels. She remains in state custody but lives with her parents.

Doctors who testified at juvenile court proceedings last year said she would have lost vision in the eye if the condition was left untreated.

The eye is still not properly set in its socket, Landers said.

The state criminal mistreatment statute says it is a crime when a parent "knowingly withholds necessary and adequate ... medical attention" from a child, the Oregonian reports.

Clackamas County sheriff's Deputy Emile Burley testified Friday that he made a child welfare check at the family home on June 29, 2010, and instantly noticed a "large bulging area" on Alayna's left eye "the size of a golf ball, maybe a little larger."

Defense lawyer Neidig said the parents had been assured by family, friends and even strangers that the mass would eventually vanish. A relative had a similar growth that went away, Neidig said.

In the past two years, Clackamas County has prosecuted two other couples from the same church whose children died from untreated ailments.

Jeff and Marci Beagley were convicted of criminally negligent homicide last year and sentenced to 16 months in prison after their 16-year-old son, Neil, died of complications from an untreated urinary tract blockage.

In 2009, the Beagleys' daughter, Raylene Worthington, and her husband, Carl Brent Worthington, were acquitted of second-degree manslaughter in the death of their young daughter, Ava, who died in 2008 of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection. Brent Worthington was convicted of the lesser charge of criminal mistreatment and sentenced to 60 days in jail.

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