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Story by Kimberly West - The Oregon Herald
Published on Thursday December 2, 2010 - 2:50 PM
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OREGON CITY, Oregon – Jeff and Marci Beagley said they did everything they could for their 16-year-old son before he died. However, a jury decided that simply anointing oils and praying for their son to recover was not enough. This was especially tough coming a few months after the death of their granddaughter. The 15-month-old girl passed away March 2008 of pneumonia and a blood infection. Like Neil, she was given oils and prayer instead of medicine. They chose religion over science.Jeff and Marci Beagley were convicted of criminally negligent homicide after prosecutors said the parents failed in their duty to seek medical help for their son, Neil, two years ago.

The jury returned a verdict on the second day of deliberations. They parents are members of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City. Church members gasped as Judge Steven Maurer read the verdicts in the courtroom.

The couple, who remain free on bail, is scheduled for sentencing on February 18th, 2011. Because neither has a prior conviction, state sentencing guidelines indicate 16 to 18 months in prison.

Prosecutors said the Beagleys had a parental duty to provide medical care for their son, Neil, who died of complications from a urinary tract blockage. The defense argued the teen boy had symptoms more like a cold or the flu.

The couple and other church members at the hearing refused comment. 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 eliminated faith healing as a defense in some manslaughter and criminal mistreatment cases.

Oregon is among several states that limit or do not allow faith or spiritual healing as a defense in some criminal charges for the death of a child. A Wisconsin couple accused of praying instead of seeking treatment for their diabetic 11-year-old daughter was sentenced to prison in a similar case there, and a Pennsylvania couple who prayed over their toddler was recently ordered to stand trial on manslaughter charges in his pneumonia death.

The Beagleys are the parents of Raylene Worthington, who along with her husband were acquitted of manslaughter last year in the March 2008 death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, from pneumonia and a blood infection. Her husband, Carl Brent Worthington, was convicted of misdemeanor criminal mistreatment.

The Beagleys were also present at the death of their granddaughter. They said they 'layed hands' on the girl after anointing her with oil and prayed instead of seeking medical care.

Greg Horner, the chief deputy district attorney who also prosecuted the faith healing trial, argued that the Beagleys should have learned their lesson and taken the the sick boy to the hospital after the death of their granddaughter.

Defense lawyers argued the Beagleys were acting reasonably and did not believe Neil was in danger of dying.

Attorney Wayne Mackeson told the jury all of Neil Beagley's symptoms were "nonspecific,", could have been signs of any number of diseases, including a common cold or the flu.

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."