Faith-healing couple takes plea in son’s death

OKANOGAN — A north-central Washington couple on Thursday agreed to accept a plea deal that spares them jail time but holds them responsible for their teenage son’s death after they failed to call a doctor.

A jury acquitted JaLea and Greg Swezey of Carlton of second-degree murder charges for failing to call a doctor or ambulance before their son Zachery died of a ruptured appendix in 2009. However, they still faced manslaughter charges.

JaLea Swezey pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal mistreatment and received a suspended sentence. Greg Swezey was charged with second-degree criminal mistreatment and his case was continued for two years.

That charge will be reduced to third-degree criminal mistreatment if he commits no felonies in the next two years, and he also would receive a suspended sentence, The Wenatchee World reported.

The Swezeys are members of the Church of the First Born, which believes in faith healing.

Okanogan County Prosecutor Karl Sloan argued during their May trial that all indications showed the Swezeys knew their son’s situation was grave. But Greg Swezey testified that he did not know until minutes before Zachery died on March 18, 2009, that his son was dying.

In developing a plea deal, Sloan said he wanted to ensure protection for the couple’s 4-year-old daughter. Under the deal, they agreed to contact Child Protective Services if a child under their care is ill or injured.

Judge Chris Culp said he felt the case was about responsibility and the role of a parent.

After sentencing JaLea Swezey, Culp said, “I think today, in no small measure, that Mrs. Swezey, you are taking responsibility for your actions or inactions in a way that hopefully will bring some closure to this really unfortunate chapter.”

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