Faith Healer Parents Plead Guilty in the Death of Baby After They Chose Prayer Over Medical Help

The couple, Sarah Mitchell, 25, and Travis Lee Mitchell, 22, pled guilty to negligent homicide and criminal mistreatment in the death of their daughter Gennifer Mitchell

Photo: Clackamas County Sheriff's Office (2)

The parents of an infant twin girl who died hours after her birth in 2017 pled guilty on Monday.

The couple, Sarah Mitchell, 25, and Travis Lee Mitchell, 22, pled guilty to negligent homicide and criminal mistreatment in the death of their daughter Gennifer Mitchell, according to the Associated Press.

The two are members of the Followers of Christ church, a small religious group that rejects medical care in favor of faith-healing.

Sarah gave birth to another child, Gennifer’s twin, Evelyn, who survived after a deputy medical examiner visiting the home because of the other baby’s death, noticed the still-living twin was also struggling to breathe, the AP reported.

Sarah did not know she was expecting twins or when she was due as she did not have any prenatal care.

The court heard that after being born the child struggled to breathe for a number of hours and members of the church were instructed to pray or lay hands on the dying baby but no one called 911.

Evelyn and Gennifer were born in their grandparents’ home on March 5, 2017. Gennifer died from “complications of prematurity.”

Sarah Elaine Mitchell
Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian via AP

The Mitchells were each sentenced to almost seven years in prison, with credit for 13 months in custody while awaiting trial and credit for good behavior, according to the outlet.

The Mitchells’ lawyer read a statement aloud in court in which they acknowledged they had failed to provide medical care for their children.

“Everyone in the church should always seek adequate medical care for our children,” a part of the statement read.

It was signed by Sarah’s father, Walter White. Her grandfather, also named Walter White, founded the Oregon chapter of the church, The Oregonian reported.

The Mitchells currently have in-jail visits with Evelyn, 16 months. She remains in foster care, according to the newspaper.

RELATED ARTICLE: Police Investigate Death of Newborn Whose Parents’ Church Allegedly Rejects Medical Care

This church’s members are no strangers to the court system as Sarah’s sister Shannon Hickman is also serving time for the death of her baby.

Shannon and her husband Dale are serving a six-year prison sentence after being convicted of second-degree manslaughter after the death of their infant son in 2009.

The boy died less than nine hours after Shannon gave birth.

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Senior Deputy District Attorney Bryan Brock told reporters the outcome was a “landmark resolution,” according to the newspaper.

“These are senseless and avoidable deaths, and we keep asking ourselves what will it take,” Brock said, referring to what it might take to make church members seek medical care for their kids, according to the outlet.

There have been a number of similar death cases involving the church.

In 2008, 15-month-old Ava Worthington died at her parents’ home of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection. Her parents allegedly provided faith-healing treatment but didn’t seek medical treatment, according to The Oregonian.

Her father, Carl, was convicted of misdemeanor criminal mistreatment and sentenced to two months in jail, the paper reports. Raylene, the mother, was acquitted on all charges.

That same year, Raylene’s 15-year-old brother died after falling ill from a urinary tract blockage. His parents said their son didn’t want medical treatment so they treated him through prayer and faith healing, according to the Oregonian. Both parents were convicted of criminally negligent homicide and given 16-month prison terms, the paper reports.

Oregon’s chief medical examiner Dr. Karen Gunson previously told PEOPLE she has seen as many as 20 deaths of church members over her 30-plus year career.

“There were teenagers,” she said. “There were small children. There were kids that were 10 or 12. There have been teenagers who have been under 18, but have made their own decision to not seek medical care.

“In the past several years they had children who died from complications from natural diseases that could have been treated. Insulin-dependent diabetes, infections like pneumonias …. They died of natural diseases. Some of them were eminently treatable.”

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