An Oregon couple who believed in “faith healing” and prayer over medical treatment have both been sentenced to six years for the death of their newborn baby girl last year.
As KPTV (Portland) reported at the time, back on March 5, 2017, Sarah Elaine Mitchell, 24 at the time, gave birth to two baby girls. She and the baby’s father, Travis Lee Mitchell, 21 at the time, did not know that she was expecting twins because she had not had any prenatal care. What’s more, the couple gave birth at home surrounded by three midwives and other members of their church, rather than at a hospital.
The couple were members of the Followers of Christ Church, an Oregon City congregation that preaches faith healing and prayer instead of medical care.
After Sarah gave birth to the twin girls, the second one, Ginnifer, began having difficulty breathing. However, nobody who was present that day chose to call 911 and instead chose to pray and “lay hands on” the newborn. She died shortly thereafter.
A member of the congregation called the Clackamas County Medical Examiner’s Office. When agents arrived, they noted that the surviving girl was also having difficulty breathing. With the help of sheriff’s deputies, they convinced the parents to take the surviving girl to the hospital.
Neither parent was charged with any crimes at the time; instead, for reasons that remain unclear, prosecutors waited until July 2017 to charge them. At that time, they were both charged with murder and criminal mistreatment.
According to a companion KPTV report, both Travis and Sarah pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and first-degree criminal mistreatment on Monday and were sentenced to six years in prison.
In what The Oregonian describes as an “unusual development,” the Bakers, through their attorney, appear to have seen the error of their ways. In a statement read by their attorney, the couple said that “everyone in the church should always seek adequate medical care for our children.”
What’s more, the statement, signed by Sarah’s father – who himself is the son of the church’s founder – will be posted in the church building for all to see, as part of the plea agreement.
As it turns out, Travis and Sarah Mitchell are neither the first members of the congregation nor even members of the same family to have faced murder charges for failing to provide medical care for a sick newborn. Sarah’s sister, Shannon Hickman, and her husband, Dale Hickman, were each sentenced to six years for murder in 2011 for failing to get medical care for their newborn son.