An Oregon couple who believe in faith healing was sentenced to at least six years and eight months in jail each on Monday after pleading guilty to the criminally negligent homicide of their newborn baby, whom they didn’t seek medical care for.
Travis Lee Mitchell, 22, and Sarah Elaine Mitchell, 25, gave birth to a pair of twin girls in March 2017 at the home of Sarah’s parents in Oregon City. There was no medical staff present for the birth. Instead, members of the Followers of Christ Church, the church that the Mitchells attend, were at the home, according to KPTV in Beaverton, Oregon.
One of the baby girls, Ginnifer, suffered breathing complications after birth. Nobody at the home dialed 911, police say. Instead, one church elder contacted the Clackamas County Medical Examiner’s Office after the girl’s death. The medical examiner contacted police and pushed the family to seek medical care for the surviving twin.
The couple initially faced murder charges when they were arrested in June 2017. Both mother and father pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and first-degree criminal mistreatment Monday. The Mitchells said in a statement, read aloud by their lawyer, “We should have sought adequate medical care for our children and everyone in the church should always seek adequate medical care for our children,” according to Oregon Live.
This isn’t the first time that the family has been convicted of not seeking medical care for infants. Sarah Mitchell's sister Shannon Hickman and her husband Dale Hickman were convicted of manslaughter in 2011 for the death of their newborn son. Like the Mitchells, the couple was sentenced to about six years in prison for that death. The Mitchells are the fifth pair of parents of the Followers of Christ Church to be prosecuted in the last decade for not seeking medical attention, according to KOIN in Portland. About 10 years ago, Oregon changed their laws to prosecute faith-healing parents.
A medical examiner determined that Ginnifer died from acute respiratory distress syndrome, Oregon Live reported.
“These are senseless and avoidable deaths,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Bryan Brock said, according to the Associated Press. He said he hopes that church members will learn to "seek medical attention and prayer. They're not mutually exclusive.''
Sarah Mitchell's lawyer Stephen Houze called the couple "utterly sincere, decent, caring human beings.'' She said they have both suffered from the death of Ginnifer.
[Photo: Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office]