Ava Worthington’s Parents Found *Not* Guilty of Manslaughter July 24, 2009

Ava Worthington’s Parents Found *Not* Guilty of Manslaughter

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Ava Worthington had died just months after her first birthday… because her parents “didn’t believe in doctors” and they thought a god would heal her.

They prayed, fasted, put their hands on her, and anointed her with oil… which to me sounds like they knew something was wrong but actively chose to deny her real help.

In another case with similar details, the mother was found guilty of second-degree reckless homicide.

What happened to the Worthingtons?

The father, Carl Brent Worthington, was found guilty of “criminal mistreatment” but not guilty of manslaughter.

The mother, Raylene Worthington, was found not guilty on both charges.

So neither parent was convicted of manslaughter.

The presiding juror’s explanation doesn’t help:

“Granted, they didn’t take her (Ava) to the hospital, but it was truly because they thought she was getting better,” [presiding juror Ashlee] Santos said. “That was the best epiphany moment.”

“It might be that a reasonable person might wait until Monday to take their kid to the doctor,” she said. “It came down to being the perfect storm of events that ended in where we are now, with her death.”

“They’re good parents who tried everything they knew in their heart. … They thought what they did was working,” she said.

Why didn’t the Worthingtons call 9-1-1 or attempt to revive her?

“Maybe it didn’t cross their mind, because that’s their life,” Santos said.

“We all know they (the Worthingtons) didn’t do it on purpose, that they had no intention of harming their child,” Santos said.

Under Oregon law, manslaughter is not defined as an intentional killing but as accidental death that the defendant has a legal responsibility to prevent.

No one’s doubting they didn’t do it on purpose. But their reckless actions killed their daughter. They had the ability to stop that and they chose not to.

If this case becomes precedent, more children will die because of the delusions of religious parents who don’t “trust” science.

If you are looking for any upside to this case, it may be that the Worthingtons were “legally prohibited from offering a religious defense.” Their lawyers successfully showed that the parents thought Ava was getting better and that’s why they didn’t take her to the hospital.

I’m sure Ava is thrilled about that.

The Good Atheist adds:

I wouldn’t have cared if either of these two morons had died of medical complication themselves. After all, I do still agree that individuals should be free to do what they want with their own bodies. What I strongly disagree with is the idea that their beliefs should carry over to others. Their responsibility was towards the welfare of their child, one that they were unable to perform because of their idiotic religious convictions.

It seems religiously-inspired negligence runs in the family, too:

The church and prosecutors will meet again in court early next year.

Raylene Worthington’s parents, Jeff and Marci Beagley, go on trial in January. They are charged with criminally negligent homicide in the death of their 16-year-old, Neil Beagley, who died last June of an untreated urinary tract blockage.

Reader Bobby offers this thought via email:

… I hate to needlessly pile on to these people and the tragedies their family is going through (due to their own negligence, but sad nonetheless). But with two children dead in your family within months, isn’t it about time to start asking your god some tough questions? At the very least, “what have you done for me lately?”

(Thanks to Bobby and Ryan for the link!)

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  • Wow. This is…wow. I expect Phil at BA will have something up as well, because he was following this case

    It’s just shocking that this would happen. Luckily, I am less worried about precedent, Hemant. Jury nullification can set precedent aside anytime it wants.

    But Oregon…I expected better from you.

  • CybrgnX

    As far as I’m concerned they are guilty of MURDER! Period. BUT…
    They had no choice because to bring the kid to the hospital whould be to admit their religion is PURE BS!!! Which it is.
    But to admit that is unthinkable to them all. Ah Well, that is until they are deathly ill, then it would be OK to go to the hospital.

  • jason

    i have to say that as a theist, the beliefs of these parents do no mirror that of most theists in this country. i would say that most theists place their trust in modern medical care and seek it out for themselves and their families when necessary.

    i personally find this incident tragic and avoidable and believe parents (of any worldview) are wholly responsible to provide medical care for their children should there be a need for it and be subject to the letter of the law when it is withheld.

    i would hope that this is recognized in the atheist community as the abberation that it is and not the norm among theists.

  • Jessica

    I obviously don’t believe in god, but I always wonder why it doesn’t occur to these people that doctors having the ability to cure their children might be god’s way of asnwering their prayers. Like that story about the man in the flood who turns down help because he believes god will save him. When he finally dies and asks god why he didn’t help, god says “I sent a boat, a plane and a helicopter, what else were you waiting for”? (or something to that effect).

  • Aj

    This is a fucking disgrace, not only is it not the job of a jury to look at the world from the values and perspectives of criminals, it is absolutely not their job to redefine the law.

    The law mandates that parents are responsible for the health of their children, and since the dereliction of this juty resulted in death we call this manslaughter. They deliberately didn’t consult a doctor, they admitted this, they are responsible.

    Parents cannot absolve themselves of responsibility towards their children without formally absolving their rights to guardianship, under the law a mother who neglects their child is responsible for that child regardless of whether informally she cedes all authority to the father.

    Further, manslaughter does not require intent, so even though the parents did not want the child to die is irrelevant if they didn’t have justifiable reason to think that.

  • Kahomono

    I wouldn’t have cared if either of these two morons had died of medical complication themselves. After all, I do still agree that individuals should be free to do what they want with their own bodies. What I strongly disagree with is the idea that their beliefs should carry over to others. Their responsibility was towards the welfare of their child, one that they were unable to perform because of their idiotic religious convictions.

    Get this through our heads right now, as horrible as it is to contemplate.



    EVERY SINGLE family that is ruled by two religious parents does this to their children.

    I sometimes think the ones for whom it manifests physically are the luckier ones.

  • Epistaxis

    Ignorantia non excusat.

  • This is so upsetting and fucked up. It could set a really, really dangerous precedent.

  • Matt D

    I would love to know what else these clowns “dont believe in”

    If someone can dismiss millions of hours of research and practice by thousands of our species best and brightest, then what’s next.

    Do these morons have electricity? Do they believe in that?

    It’s absolutley infuriating that so many half-wits will subjectively choose which bits of science (and the supernatural for that matter) they “believe in”.

    I dont see how you can accept that a TV set works, but dont accept a doctor can treat you with medicine. The evidence is there for all to see – you dont need to understand it.

    Woo is woo, and real is real. and neither is a smorgasbord, you dont get to take only the bits you like.

  • Ron in Houston

    Well, to be the devils advocate, kids die from things like this more than folks realize. The question is really whether the parents should be sent to prison and the evidence showed that they thought she was getting better.

    Having said that, I’m appalled at how far society will go in the name of “religious tolerance.” Oregon didn’t remove the religion defense to things like manslaughter until the late 1990’s. Clearly the jury cut these folks some slack because of their religious beliefs.

  • David

    How dare they let these criminals go un punished. steps must be taken to abolish faith healing and make it part of health care reform. I say we stone the faith healers nearly to death and led them die slowly for their crimes.

  • Well, to be the devils advocate, kids die from things like this more than folks realize. The question is really whether the parents should be sent to prison and the evidence showed that they thought she was getting better.

    The reason that this is important is precisely because it probably does happen more often than we realize. People who kill children should be punished. It’s their fault their daughter died, and they could have prevented it. Leniency should be given at sentencing, not when determining guilt.

  • Dawn

    I was present in the courtroom. All I can say as a law student, is that the prosecution did not meet the legal standard for burden of proof on the Manslaughter charges. They did, however, meet and exceed the standard for Criminal Mistreatment in the Second Degree for both parents. What happened here was both a tragedy, and a glimpse into the future. What I find the most unnerving, is that Mrs. Worthington is expecting rather soon, and will have her only current surviving child returned to her within the week. History is doomed to repeat itself. Raylene is third generation in this church. While I was there, I mingled with other members of the church. I sat next to the best friend of Carl Brent. when I was speaking of medical terms and interpreting for these poor people, I noticed that not one single person there next to me had ever been to a doctor in their life. A woman from the church was on crutches. I asked her objectively what would happen if you broke your leg in several places? Her answer was dismal. “I would be given the deformity for not having enough faith to heal.” WOW! That about says it all, doesn’t it? The parents of Ava actually think that it is their spiritual shortcoming that cost their daughter her life. One cannot judge a book by its cover. Not all Oregonians were present at that trial, and the Worthingtons lives are threatened on a daily basis. They have been forced to abandon their three bedroom ranch home and go underground for fear of community retribution. Please do not blame those of us in Oregon for the acts of a few. The legal business is a very technical dance. It all boils down to who has the best performance. That is all. The rest will be judged in the next world.

  • ME

    One comment in the article, “..surely they did not do this on purpose..” (Or something to that effect). YES, Yes they did. Their child was sick. They CHOSE not to get medical help. They CHOSE to (stupidly) pray to a magical sky daddy instead. They CHOSE to ignore the evidence. It appears that they CHOSE not to get a medical opinion as to if she truly was getting better. Then she died. Therefore, they CHOSE for her to die and willfully allowed and participated in her death, i.e. they MURDERED her. They should be given the death penalty. .. I am all for religious freedom. If, as an informed (or not so informed) adult, you choose to not take medical treatment and avoid doctors, FINE. But involving an entity that cannot decide for itself should be illegal. Comments: xthetruth1@aol.com

  • mommy

    In response to “Their lawyers successfully showed that the parents thought Ava was getting better and that’s why they didn’t take her to the hospital.”

    When asked if they would have done anything different knowing that their daughter would die, the parents responded “NO”.

    How did the lawyers prove that they didn’t take her to the hospital because they didn’t think she was that sick when they admitted that they wouldn’t have taken her even if they KNEW she would die???!!!

  • HOpe

    Me has a mother i would do anything in my power to get my daughter better.the more she got sick and get better then get sick and better.Something was wrong. and i would have took her to the hospital when i seemn that growth on her neck..My religion is almost like that but i wont let anyone tell me not to get my kids to a doctor or hosiptal.They should have got punish more then what they have got……..

  • Kay

    I was researching this case and stumbled on your website. Never in my life did I believe I would agree on much of anything with an atheist…until now. I believe God exists with all that I am. I also believe these two ‘parents’ ,using that term very loosely, should rot in prison. When religion starts costing the lives of innocent children it is then called a cult. Any reasonable human being would have had that mass alone evaluated LONG before this crisis arose. Idiots. Plain and simple..idiots. Im disgustied.

  • pam

    I am shocked our society let these people get away with murder!!

  • Roger M

    Charge the parents with murder, The USA needs more Govt. control of religions or what ones you cant belong to

  • ayounggrandma

    I find this case deplorable. What a pair of idiots. They are guilty of 2nd degree murder and should be jailed and surgically sterilized. Maybe in years to come society will finally realize that not all parents are fit to raise children, just because they can physically bear them. I treat my animals better than this. As a parent and grandparent this is an unforgivable crime and it shows intent because there is no way that they did not know what the outcome would be. Sterilize them both and stop forcing poor helpless children to suffer because of the parent’s stupidity.

  • PAM

    How can the Worthington’s sleep at night knwing they killed their daughter?
    All I can say is what goes around comes around & they will have to face their maker!!

  • Roxy

    Do we place on criminal trial the FDA or those overseeing allowing a dangerous drug set out in market that has killed countless children and adults?

    Do those at the FDA EVER go on trial and risk life in prison, NO !

    These parents have been put through enough, is it not enough they lost their child? For vindictive reasons they tried to persecute them further, now I do believe those involved should go on trial for that.

  • Simply Put…

    …or maybe, they will just face one of us…

  • kristi

    The sad thing is that this little girl was suffering for 3 months being ill with no professional opinion on her status. I hate that people depend on things unproven to assist them in life. It is everyones right to raise their kids how they choose, but when it comes to the life or death of a child that should not be upheld. Would they allow her to be sacrificed because of religious beliefs too? That is what it looks like to me

  • kristi

    Also, considering these people lived in part of the bible belt, it is no surprise to me that they let them get away with it. If the trial and jury were held somewhere like NY city or a major metro area I think it would have been different results.

  • Carrie

    This is the first time I have heard about this trial. I think the people of this jury were completely and entirely wrong. These two people should have been convicted of murder. They shouldn’t be allowed to raise any children. I also have religion in my life, I love the Lord and I believe that he can perform miracles. But as a mother I also believe that the Lord works through people. He gave doctors the gift to heal and it is our responsibility to trust them. I am outraged about this whole entire thing. Even though these people got away with murder, I know in my heart that when their time comes God will judge them and they will defiantly get what is coming to them.


    These two losers don’t believe in seeking help from doctors to save their childs life but they do believe in seeking help from lawyers to save their own ass. What a croc of shit! Shame on that jury.

  • mommy2anILLbaby

    I have conflicting feelings. one, I do believe everyone has a right to their own beliefs. However I really don’t think I would look at my child who is already tiny for her age, coughing, having trouble breathing and also a huge mass on her neck and not take her to a doctor! This is such a tragic story and I will pray for this little girl’s soul as well as the Worthingtons, their oldest daughter and the baby that is soon to be born. I believe that both parents should have been charged with criminal mistreatment but not manslaughter, reason being they were raised to believe modern medicine is dangerous and unnecessary. Now they know so i also think they should be court ordered to take their children (the remaining) to the doctor regularly and have blood work done on their oldest child. Blood disorders run in families so their oldest child could also have some sort of disorder that nobody knows of. Pray for them, don’t hate them or wish evil things on them. pray that they are given the knowledge they need to be good parents. I believe they loved their daughter and truly wanted her to get well they were just in fear of their religion and the unknown. (to them)Not everyone knows all of the laws and not everyone knows signs of major illness. They could have seen much worse things in their families due to the lack of medical care and also seen these same cases get better. so who is to say they actually KNEW something serious was going on with their daughter? the only sign of something awful was the growth which could have been anything. my daughter has a long list of illnesses and if the doctor hadn’t noticed that her weight was fairly rapid and had her tested i would have never known… i would have assumed she was just a really good eater…she has hypothyroidism and Laryngeal Malaysia. I always bring her to the doctor and it took 9 months to find this out!

  • mommy2anILLbaby

    apparently the sentence i suggested of ordering them to seek medical care for their other child and unborn child was exactly what they were ordered to do. so i do believe what they were sentenced with was nearly sufficient, although both of them should have been charged with criminal mistreatment with at least 90 days in jail for both.

  • Rubberduck

    If those parents had worshipped Zeus or Thor, would the jury and the judge have treated them the same way ?
    Probably not!
    But why not ?

  • Traziness

    I wish to win the lottery every day. I wish I had a new car in my garage every morning. I wish I was a princess. But as hopeful a person as I am I woud never just hope for my child’s life. I would DO something about it. Simple logic. I agree these people should not be allowed to have more children considering they’ve admitted they do not believe in caring for their child and take no responsibility for its well-being. They would NOT have taken her to a doctor if they had known factually she was going to die??! They took no responsibility for her life now they haven’t even been held responsible for her death. Complete societal failures. Both the parents and the legal system.

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