Christian faith-healing couple in Oregon charged with murder over death of newborn baby

A Christian couple from Oregon who relied on faith healing has been charged with murder and criminal mistreatment over the death of their newborn daughter in March.

((Photo: Reuters/Richard Clement))Cyclists ride past a fountain on the waterfront in Portland, Oregon, August 14, 2005.

Sarah Elaine and Travis Lee Mitchell, 24 and 21 years old respectively, surrendered to authorities on June 5. They were then brought to the Clackamas County Jail. The couple was charged with murder by neglect as well as first-degree criminal mistreatment over the death of daughter Ginnifer Mitchell on March 5, Oregon Live details.

Around 60 Followers of Christ Church members came to the house to celebrate the birth of the twin girls, but nobody called 911 even when Ginnifer started having difficulty breathing four hours after. Before she died, the sick baby was being fed with milk using an eye dropper. The baby's surviving twin Evelyn was later brought to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, investigators have found.

Based on an autopsy done by Oregon State Medical Examiner Karen Gunson, Ginnifer died of complications of her premature birth. The baby's lungs reportedly had not developed properly, but Gunson told investigators that death would have been preventable if the newborn was given intensive medical treatment.

Meanwhile, the Mitchells have pleaded not guilty to the murder charge over their newborn daughter's death. They are now being held at the prison without bail and are due to attend their first hearing on June 30, KATU reports.

Child deaths have been observed in the church for several years, and its members believe that elders should anoint the sick and that faith will bring healing to them. They also believe that death is part of God's will if it comes.

In 2011, Followers of Christ Church members Dale and Shannon Hickman were convicted of manslaughter over the death of their baby. They were handed six-year jail sentences that year. It is worth noting that the case happened just before the use of faith healing as a legal defense was prohibited. 

Sarah's sister and other church members have also been criminally charged in the past over the deaths of their children who suffered from medical illnesses. However, this is the first time that one of them has been charged with murder.