Parents found guilty of neglecting ill son

Parents found guilty of neglecting ill son »Play Video
Jeff Beagley, left, and his wife Marci listen as their verdict is read by Judge Steven Maurer.

OREGON CITY, Ore. (AP) - An Oregon couple was found guilty Tuesday of criminally negligent homicide for praying over their ill son instead of seeking medical help.

The jury returned the verdict on the second day of deliberations in the trial of Jeff and Marci Beagley, both members of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City. Church members gasped as Judge Steven Maurer read the verdicts.

The couple, who remain free on bail, is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 18. Because neither has a prior conviction, state sentencing guidelines call for 16 to 18 months in prison.

Prosecutors said the Beagleys had a duty as parents to provide medical care for their 16-year-old son, Neil, who died in 2008 of complications from a urinary tract blockage. The defense argued the teenager had symptoms more like a cold or the flu.

The couple and other church members at the hearing declined to comment Tuesday. Wayne Mackeson, Jeff Beagley's attorney, said they would consider an appeal.

"It's never been a referendum on the church. This case involves parents who didn't understand how sick their child was," he said.

The Followers of Christ shuns 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 had 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, also prosecuted the faith healing trial last year of the Beagleys' 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 reported to be in the home, laying hands on the teen, praying and handing out the ceremonial wine.

District Attorney John Foote said his office would have no comment until after sentencing.

"The jury's verdicts of guilty are extremely important for this community," he said. "However, the cases are still not complete."