Pennsylvania parents who said their 2-year-old daughter’s death was “God’s will” were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on Friday after refusing to seek medical care for the child’s treatable form of pneumonia, PEOPLE confirms.
Jonathan Foster, 35, and his 34-year-old wife, Grace Anne Foster, belong to a religious group that does not believe in medical intervention using doctors and pharmaceutical drugs, according to articles in the Reading Eagle, the Lebanon Daily News and Philadelphia TV station WPVI. These outlets report the following:
The Fosters’ daughter, Ella Grace, died in her father’s arms on Nov. 8, 2016.
At trial, prosecutors said that her parents understood the severity of her illness, which medical experts said she likely would have survived if treated properly, according to testimony.
“Their faith is obviously important to them, but they will abide by the law,” an attorney for the couple, R. Davis Younts, said after the verdict, the Eagle reports.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
The Fosters are members of Faith Tabernacle Congregation in Lebanon, which is led by Rowland Foster, the grandfather of the deceased child. Rowland had been charged in the case with failure to report suspected abuse after Ella Grace died, but prosecutors withdrew that count against him in December.
The couple remains free on bond pending their sentencing on April 25.
Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams tells PEOPLE that while the Fosters could face up to 10 years on their conviction for involuntary manslaughter, sentencing guidelines more typically would place the punishment at nine to 16 months in prison.
“We will be asking for incarceration,” he says.
The couple was also convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, with a lesser sentence likely to be served concurrently, Adam says.
“I am very pleased,” he says of the guilty verdicts. “This was a very emotional case but a very important case. The child died as a result of the parents not seeking medical treatment for their sick infant, as a result of their religious beliefs.”
He adds: “We need to protect the voices of these children whose voices cannot be heard. This church has had a history of not seeking medical attention for children who are ill. We need to protect the children from their parents’ religious beliefs.”
Younts said the defense will “pursue all appropriate avenues for a fair sentence and potential appeals on behalf of what is best for our clients,” according to the Eagle. (PEOPLE’s call to Younts was not immediately returned.)
• For more compelling true crime coverage, follow our Crime magazine on Flipboard.
According to a police affidavit as described by the Daily News, the parents attributed their daughter’s death to “God’s will.” They thought she was suffering from a common cold that set in two days before she died, the defense argued during the trial.
But Assistant District Attorney Katie Lehman reportedly said the Fosters’ actions indicate they knew Ella Grace’s condition was far worse, as they summoned their pastor to anoint the ill child the night before she died — but did not direct his attention to a second child suffering with similar cold symptoms.
According to local outlets, the Fosters surrendered custody of six other children, ranging in age from 1 to 12 years old, after they were charged, when prosecutors tried to amend the couple’s bail agreement and require them to seek medical care as needed for those children.
Authorities said then that those children would be placed together in foster care to ensure such care would be available to them.