A judge ruled last week that religious beliefs and practices can be used as evidence in the manslaughter trials of Travis and Wenona Rossiter, an Albany couple accused of depriving their 12-year-old daughter of life-saving medical care.
“The court cannot find that evidence of a religious motive is more prejudicial in this case than the absence of such evidence,” wrote Judge Daniel Murphy, in his May 20 opinion letter.
He added that if the Rossiters religious beliefs compelled their conduct, than this was a form of motive evidence and relevant.
Murphy called the defense’s tactic of trying to prevent evidence of religious beliefs “unusual.”
Without their religious convictions, the Rossiter’s actions appear “wanton and grossly reckless,” Murphy wrote.
The state, according to Murphy, was not trying to inject religious bias into a jury trial.
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.
Syble Rossiter, 12, died of diabetes complications in February 2013, according to court paperwork.
According to the prosecution, her family resorted to faith-healing rites rather than medical care.
Not surprisingly, Travis and Wenona Rossiter have no criminal history.
Murphy previously ruled in favor of a defense motion to exclude information at trial about the death of Wenona Rossiter’s brother.
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 Hays, 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.