Oregon Couple Charged In Death Of Daughter Request Faith Healing Not Be Mentioned

| by Jared Keever

An Oregon couple, charged with manslaughter in the death of their 12-year-old daughter, have asked that mention of their religious beliefs and faith healing practices be excluded from evidence during their trial.

Prosecutor Keith Stein contends that Travis and Wenona Rossiter are responsible for the death of Syble Rossiter who died of complications from diabetes in February 2013. 

“They knew she was in great peril ... They didn’t seek out medical care, and the reason they didn’t do it was their religious beliefs,” Stein said in a hearing Friday according to the Gazette Times of Corvallis, Ore. 

“This is what the case is about, and in truth, this is what happened,” he added.

The Rossiters were arrested in August. They are members of the Church of the First Born, a fundamentalist group that believes traditional medical treatment is sinful.

Police Capt. Eric Carter of Albany, Ore., was present at the couple’s arrest.

“The 12-year-old had a treatable medical condition and the parents did not provide adequate and necessary medical care to that child,” he told Portland’s KOIN News in August. “And that, unfortunately, resulted in the death of her on February 5 of this year.”

Carter said he did not know to what degree the couple believed in faith healing, only that he was briefed that the child would have lived had she received proper treatment.

Wenona Rossiter’s attorney, Mark Heslinga, told Judge Daniel Murphy last week that mentioning the couple’s religious beliefs would be prejudicial.

Tim Felling, Travis Rossiter’s attorney, told the judge, “My client is requesting he be tried for the actions of that day, not for his religious beliefs.”

Wenona Rossiter’s 7-year-old brother died of leukemia in 1994 after her parents failed to provide medical care for the child.

A jury convicted her father, Loyd Hays, of criminally negligent homicide in that case. He was sentenced to five years’ probation. He was the first person in the state to be tried for adhering to religious beliefs rather than seeking medical care for a child.

Murphy was the judge in that case as well. He allowed for exclusion of some information about that death but he said it is not relevant to the current case because the children died of different causes.

He said he would issue a ruling in the Rossiters’ case “as soon as possible.”

A date for the trial has not been set.

Sources: Gazette Times, KOIN