OREGON CITY, Ore. (CN) – An Oregon couple whose son died when they chose prayer rather than medical treatment was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide Tuesday after a Clackamas County jury deliberated for two days. Jeff and Marci Beagley’s 16-year-old son Neil died in June 2008 of complications stemming from a urinary tract blockage.
At trial, the defense argued that the Beagleys simply did not know that Neil was as sick as he was, and had he asked, they would have taken him to a hospital.
Marci told police that before her son died, she asked him if he wanted medical treatment and he declined, opting for family members to lay their hands on him.
“This case involves parents who didn’t understand how sick their child was,” said Jeff Beagley’s attorney, Wayne Mackeson. “It’s never been a referendum on the church.”
The Beagleys’ church, the Followers of Christ, is not a stranger to controversy. More than a decade ago, Oregon City officials claimed to have discovered an unusually large number of child deaths in families belonging to the church. This led to a 1999 law limiting the use of religious defenses in criminal negligence cases. This case is seen as the second major test of that law.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Greg Horner also prosecuted a faith-healing case involving Jeff and Marci’s 15-month old granddaughter Ava, who died from a blood infection in 2008. Brent and Raylene Worthington used prayer and oils rather than seeking professional medical help.
The Worthingtons were acquitted of manslaughter last year, but Brent served 2 months for misdemeanor criminal mistreatment.
The Beagleys are scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 18. Sentencing guidelines call for 16 to 18 months in prison since neither has a prior conviction.
Mackeson said the couple is considering an appeal.