EUGENE, Ore. — Nine months after their 16-year-old son died of a treatable illness, Brandi and Russell Bellew plead guilty to criminally negligent homicide.
The couple was sentenced to five years probation, providing they seek adequate medical care for their children.
The court room was packed Tuesday, with about 50 friends and family of the couple. Many of them, including the Bellews, were teary throughout the hearing. It’s been an emotional nine months, but one the district attorney’s office hopes everyone will learn from.
Brandi and Russell Bellew had not seen each other in seven months until they sat side by side at their hearing Tuesday morning. They spent the last nine months dealing with investigations, court dates, jail cells and ankle bracelets after their 16-year-old son Austin died back in December.
“In short, Austin suffered a burst appendix and died from an infection secondary to his burst appendix,” said Erik Hasselman, Lane County Deputy District Attorney.
Appendicitis, which led to Austin’s death, is a very curable disease, but one that his family and he chose not to seek treatment for, in accordance with the family’s religious beliefs in faith healing. However, those beliefs do not align with the law.
“Our intervention into our lives was not because of their faith whatsoever, but there’s a duty to protect children that everybody in our community shares to provide basic food, shelter, and medical care, and in that was not met in this case,” Hasselman said.
Outside of this instance though, the Bellew’s family friends and Creswell community members vouch that Brandi and Russell are good parents, and good citizens, and through the investigation the state agreed.
“This is a family that was a very peaceful, very law abiding family,” Hasselman said.
“The DHS worker said it is my observation of the family over time that their actions and edits indicate that they will do whatever is asked of them and that is in fact what they’ve done,” said Brandi Bellew’s attorney Robert Schrank.
The Bellews did not testify, only entered their guilty pleas. But after a judge sentenced them to five years probation, with DHS supervision and provided they seek adequate medical care for all six of their children, the saga ended with tears and a long embrace with each other and their kids.
The district attorney’s office says its main goal in this case was to prevent another death like this. It met with church elders and wrote a letter that was distributed to all congregation members outlining the laws and ways to seek out proper medical care.