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Religious Evidence Allowed in Case

RossitersALBANY, Ore. — Two Albany parents facing manslaughter charges for the death of their daughter will not be able to keep their religious beliefs from the courtroom, after a judge denied their request to exclude such evidence.

Wenona and Travis Rossiter are both facing manslaughter charges in the first and second degrees for the death of their 12-year-old daughter Syble who died last February.

Police say the Rossiters did not provide Syble adequate medical care for a condition that was treatable. The Medical Examiner’s Office says she died from diabetic complications.

Police say the couple belongs to Church of the First Born. Its website says it believes in healing through prayer.

On March 5, the defendants filed a motion asking to exclude evidence of religious beliefs or practices, but the court denied the request last week. In an opinion letter that Circuit Judge Daniel Murphy submitted on May 20, he writes: “The court cannot find that evidence of a religious motive is more prejudicial in this case than the absence of such evidence.”

On the same day, March 5, the state filed a motion asking the court to allow evidence of the defendants’ awareness of the death of Wenona’s brother, Anthony Hays, who died of juvenile leukemia in 1994. Court records show that one of his parents was convicted of negligent homicide for not providing him with medical care. In his opinion letter, Judge Murphy addresses the state’s request, but lists specific requirements the evidence would need to meet before it could be admissible in the court.

The requirements include that the defendant (Wenona) had observed her brother’s condition immediately before he died and would have seen his symptoms, that she was old enough to perceive and and understand the seriousness of his illness, that she knew or should have known that their parents chose not to provide care for him, that his symptoms were the same or similar to the symptoms of Syble’s, and that Wenona had reason to know or knew that their parents were prosecuted for not providing Hays with adequate medical care. Judge Murphy says if the evidence can demonstrate all of the requirements, then the state can present it as evidence in the court. If the evidence does not prove the above list of requirements, then it would not be allowed.

In his opinion letter, Judge Murphy also denies Wenona Rossiter’s request to consolidate the two trials.

The trials are set for November.

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