Defense attorneys for Travis and Wenona Rossiter, an Albany couple accused of manslaughter for the death of their 12-year-old daughter in February 2013, are seeking to exclude evidence of religious beliefs or practices during their trial.

Judge Daniel Murphy made no decision in the matter during Friday’s Circuit Court hearing at the Linn County Courthouse, but said he would do so “as soon as possible.”

The Rossiters are members of the Church of the First Born, a fundamentalist sect that believes traditional medical treatment is sinful, and instead trust in God to heal them through faith, according to police and court documents.

The prosecution intends to show that Syble Rossiter, 12, was deprived of life-saving medical care, and her parents instead resorted to faith-healing rites.

“They knew she was in great peril. ... They didn’t seek out medical care, and the reason they didn’t do it was their religious beliefs,” Prosecutor Keith Stein said.

“This is what the case is about, and in truth, this is what happened,” he added.

Mark Heslinga, defense attorney for Wenona Rossiter, said evidence of religious beliefs would be prejudicial.

“My client is requesting he be tried for the actions of that day, not for his religious beliefs,” said Tim Felling, Travis Rossiter’s attorney.

Several other motions were discussed on Friday.

Murphy ruled in favor of a defense request to exclude information about the death of Wenona Rossiter’s brother at trial.

Anthony Hays, 7, died of leukemia in 1994, after his parents failed to provide medical care for him.

In 1996, a Linn County jury convicted his father, Loyd Hays of Brownsville, on charges of criminally negligent homicide. He was sentenced to five years' probation.

Hays’ wife, Christina, was acquitted.

They were the first people in Oregon to be prosecuted for following their religion rather than taking a sick child for medical care.

Murphy said the two children died of completely separate causes, so he didn’t see the relevance.

Murphy also ruled against allowing evidence of prior bad acts regarding a lack of medical care for Syble Rossiter.

“It doesn’t prove they acted recklessly in this case,” he said.

The couple also will be tried together, rather than separately, though dates have not been set.

Murphy denied a defense motion to exclude the testimony of a doctor specializing in child diabetes.

Syble Rossiter died of diabetes complications, according to court paperwork.

Stein said that Syble Rossiter such had dramatic weight loss in the month before she died that a teacher confronted Wenona Rossiter about the issue.

Kyle Odegard covers public safety for the D-H. He can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net.

(1) comment

Ricardo Small
Ricardo Small

The deaths of children due to superstitious belief in divine healing makes me sad, given all the science our society offers. What would the dead children have contributed to our society?

My aunt and uncle were christian scientists. My uncle died younger than he should have, because he didn't seek medical help for a heart condition. He was in his 60's, when he died. An adult!

My uncle was not a child reliant on parental care. He made his own decision and paid for that with his life. The ability to seek medical care for curable illness is absent in children of families impaired by belief in the fiction of medical cures by a make believe old man in the sky.

All the evidence, including prior deaths of children, ought to be considered in this trial. This type of parental conduct warrants conviction and severe penalties, NOT just slap on the wrist probation.

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