Court denies faith-healing appeal in boy's death

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PORTLAND — The Oregon Court of Appeals denied an appeal from a faith-healing couple convicted of negligent homicide in the death of their 16-year-old son.

Jeffrey and Marci Beagley contend they had no legal duty to provide medical care for their child and that the judge who handled their case improperly allowed jurors to hear prejudicial testimony. The court, however, ruled Wednesday that the evidence and jury instructions at the Beagleys' trial were appropriate, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

The Beagleys, who have both completed 16-month prison terms, are members of the Followers of Christ church that relies on prayer, fasting, anointing with oil and the laying on of hands.

At their 2010 trial, the Oregon City couple testified they knew their son Neil was ill two weeks before he died in June 2008 from complications of a urinary tract blockage. Rather than take Neil to the doctor, they honored the boy's wish to have his fate placed in God's hands.

Doctors testified that the condition was treatable.

The Beagleys also were present when their 15-month-old granddaughter died of complications from pneumonia and a blood infection, both treatable conditions, in March 2008.

The couple argued the trial court judge erroneously denied their motion to exclude that evidence. The appeals court disagreed.

"The fact that defendants had witnessed the death of another child due a to lack of medical care makes it more probable, not only that they did know that Neil was at risk, but that they should have known that Neil was at risk," the court said.

Likewise, the court said, the jury instructions were appropriate and Oregon's criminal negligence statutes were correctly applied.

"The statutes permit a parent to treat a child by prayer or other spiritual means so long as the illness is not life threatening," the appeals court said. "However, once a reasonable person should know that there is a substantial risk that the child will die without medical care, the parent must provide that care, or allow it to be provided, at the risk of criminal sanctions if the child does die."