A couple who are part of a religious group that practices an extreme form of faith-healing have been sentenced to almost seven years in prison after refusing medical treatment for their newborn daughter. Sarah and Travis Lee Mitchell pled guilty to counts of negligent homicide and criminal mistreatment in the death of Ginnifer Mitchell, who died on March 5, 2017 as a result of complications resulting from her premature birth.
The Oregon couple are members of the “Followers of Christ Church” that teaches against the use of traditional medicine in favor of prayer and anointing the sick with oil. This is the fifth criminal case in the past decade that has involved this controversial group of believers. At a recent hearing, the Mitchells’ defense attorney, Stephen Houze, read a statement that simply advised: “Everyone in the church should always seek adequate medical care for our children.”
According to Oregon Live, the statement will be signed by Sarah Mitchell’s father, who is a key figure in the church, and prominently displayed within the church building.
“These are senseless and avoidable deaths, and we keep asking ourselves what will it take to convince others in the church to get the right medical care for their children,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Bryan Brock. The Mitchells’ other twin daughter, Evelyn, only managed to survive after a medical examiner was called the family home to deal with Ginnifer’s death. When the examiner, Eric Tonsfeldt, noticed Evelyn was having trouble breathing, he immediately instructed the family to take the newborn to hospital. Despite repeated attempts to convince them this was an absolute necessity, Sarah Mitchell’s father just kept responding with the words, “Thank you for your input.”
After leaving the family home, Tonsfeldt called Oregon City Police and requested a “welfare check.”
When the police arrived, they were greeted by Sarah Mitchell’s father, who was reluctant to let them in. “Are you telling us we have to go to the hospital?” Josh Mitchell asked the police when they explained why they were there. When the police responded in the affirmative, the family retreated back into their home to make a decision, finally agreeing to take Evelyn to the hospital.
According to USA Today, Travis Mitchell left with the baby and drove to Willamette Falls Hospital with the patrol car escorting. Evelyn was stabilized and transferred to
This is not the first time that the church community has been involved in a serious case of infant neglect. In 2011, members Shannon and Dale Hickman were convicted of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison following the 2009 death of their newborn son.
Sarah Mitchell is the granddaughter of the Church’s founder, Walter White and the sister of Shannon Hickman. The church, which has locations in Oregon and Idaho, had roughly 1,000 members and supposedly finds its roots in an obscure form of Pentecostalism.