Prosecutors: Religion central to girl’s death

CORVALLIS, Ore. — A Linn County judge will soon decide whether a family’s religious beliefs are relevant to the death of their daughter.

Syble Rossiter, 12, died of complications from diabetes, and she endured such a dramatic weight loss in the month before she died that a teacher confronted her mother about the issue.

The family is part of the Church of the First Born, a fundamentalist sect that believes traditional medical treatment is sinful, and instead trusts in God to heal them through faith, The Albany Democrat-Herald reported.

Syble’s parents, Travis and Wenona Rossiter, face manslaughter charges.

Their attorneys want to exclude evidence of the couple’s beliefs from the trial, arguing that such evidence would be prejudicial.

Prosecutors said the family’s beliefs are the reason they failed to seek medical care.

“They knew she was in great peril. (They) didn’t seek out medical care, and the reason they didn’t do it was their religious beliefs,” Prosecutor Keith Stein said. “This is what the case is about, and in truth, this is what happened.”

Mark Heslinga, defense attorney for Wenona Rossiter, said evidence of religious beliefs would be prejudicial.

“My client is requesting he be tried for the actions of that day, not for his religious beliefs,” said Tim Felling, Travis Rossiter’s attorney.

Wenona Rossiter’s family made history in the 1990s, when her brother, Anthony Hays, 7, died of leukemia in 1994 after his parents failed to provide medical care for him.

Two years later, a Linn County jury convicted his father, Loyd Hays of Brownsville, on charges of criminally negligent homicide. He was sentenced to five years’ probation. Hays’ wife, Christina, was acquitted.

They were the first people in Oregon to be prosecuted for following their religion rather than taking a sick child for medical care.

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