An Albany couple accused of manslaughter in the February 2013 death of their daughter belong to an informally organized religious denomination that believes in faith healing, shuns military service, doesn’t have paid clergy, and has existed in the United States for more than a century, according to 1990s Linn County Circuit Court filings.
Travis Lee Rossiter and Wenona Rossiter appeared in Linn County Circuit Court on Wednesday morning and were scheduled for separate two-week trials.
His is set to begin Aug. 18. Hers is scheduled to start Nov. 3.
“There is a possibility it could get consolidated,” Judge Daniel Murphy said.
The Rossiters belong to the General Assembly of the Church of the First Born, Albany police have said.
In 1996, Wenona Rossiter’s father, Loyd Hays of Brownsville, also a church member, was convicted of charges of criminally negligent homicide regarding the death of his 7-year-old son. Her mother, Christina Hays, was acquitted.
In that case, paperwork filed by defense attorneys James Egan and Paul Kuebrich detailed the church.
At that time, the church had about 100 congregations nationwide, with between 16,000 to 20,000 members, according to a memorandum written by Egan and Kuebrich.
The highest concentration of Church of the First Born members was in Oklahoma, but Oregon had congregations in Brownsville, Monroe, Goshen, and Hillsboro. The church had been active for decades in the mid-Willamette Valley.
Denomination members avoid the military because the Bible forbids killing, the attorneys wrote.
“They dress and behave modestly. Men commonly wear plain trousers and plain shirts; women generally wear dresses and let their hair grow long as the scriptures state that ‘a woman’s hair is a glory’ ... Cosmetics and jewelry are avoided. Usually the only jewelry that an adult ‘true follower’ will wear is a wedding band,” the memo states.
The defense attorneys added that children are not automatically members of the church, and must choose baptism. Some are baptized as elementary schoolers, others wait until they are middle-aged.
The memo also said the Church of the First Born and the Hayses relied on their faith to heal the sick.
When Tony Hays’ health deteriorated in October and November 1995, “his parents called the elders, who laid their hands on Tony’s head and prayed for him,” the defense attorneys wrote.
Church of the First Born members do use first-aid, however, and hearing aids and glasses are used by church members because they are “like the crutches of the lame in the Bible,” the memo states.
According to the 1995 affidavit of Benton Johnson, then the head of the department of religious studies at the University of Oregon, the Church of the First Born was founded in 1907 as a Pentecostal group.
Kuebrich and Egan wrote that the Church of the First Born came to the United States in the 1860s, and were at that time known as “true followers.”
The Rossiters have each been charged with a count of first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter.
Albany police, who investigated the death of 12-year-old Syble Rossiter in February 2013, arrested her parents on Aug. 29.
The Rossiters were released from jail after being arraigned on Aug. 30.