EUGENE, Ore. — Another faith-healing case is closed as district attorneys all over the state hope this is the last of them.
The Lane County DA’s office looked to Clackamas County investigators during the Bellew trial after it dealt with four similar cases in the last decade. It says the Bellews’ case was different from the four out of Clackamas County over the last five years but different in a good way. They say hopefully it changed how and if we see faith-healing cases here in the future.
“Quite honestly, we expected there would be some skepticism on their part and some resistance,” said Erik Hasselman, Lane County Deputy District Attorney.
However, Hasselman says that was not the case when he and his colleagues wrote a letter to the Bellews’ church, General Assembly and Church of the First Born, outlining state laws about providing medical care.
“Our meeting with the church leadership that we met with was very well received, at least it appeared well received, and they even made the effort of making some suggestions of how they could educate their membership according to what we wanted to do,” Hasselman said.
That response was much more enthusiastic than the one Clackamas County investigators received when they put out a similar letter, after Jeffrey and Marci Beagley were sentenced to 16 months in prison in connection with their 16-year-old son’s death.
“John Foote, the DA, wrote a letter–an open letter–basically to start a conversation about what the law was expecting of them,” said Greg Horner, Clackamas County Chief Deputy District Attorney.
It turns out it didn’t start much of a conversation at all. The DA’s office says that letter was answered with silence, and then two more cases came out of the Beagleys’ church–Followers of Christ in Oregon City.
Hasselman says he hopes for a different outcome here in Lane County, and judging by the Bellews’ church’s reaction, he’s confident this will change the future of faith-healing cases in Lane County.
“I think people are on notice that they have a duty to take care of their children. We don’t want to see anymore dead kids. That’s the bottom line. And if there are after this point and it’s under circumstances that it could have been prevented, that the parents should have known better, than I think you can expect a different resolution,” Hasselman said.
The law was changed after the fourth Clackamas County trial, so religious beliefs are no longer accepted as a defense in a case like this. That will make it much more difficult for any family who chooses to go to trial in a faith-healing case.