An Albany couple who believes in faith healing was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday for depriving their diabetic daughter of life-saving medical care — which resulted in their conviction for manslaughter.
In delivering the sentence, Linn County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Murphy said he could not consider that Travis and Wenona Rossiter lived law-abiding and exemplary lives, that they had been good parents, and that there was an absence of malice in their actions.
Defense attorneys said the case showed the flaws of Measure 11, Oregon’s mandatory minimum sentencing law.
“The judge indicated he didn’t want to apply that sentence. He felt constrained by Measure 11,” Mark Heslinga, Wenona Rossiter’s counsel, said.
Tim Felling, Travis Rossiter’s attorney, said the sentence would be appealed. Heslinga said other matters could be appealed, as well, such as pre-trial rulings.
In November, a 12-member jury found Travis and Wenona Rossiter guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter at the conclusion of a six-day trial.
Their daughter, Syble Rossiter, 12, died of diabetes complications in February 2013.
First-degree manslaughter is a Measure 11 crime that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Murphy said the case didn’t meet the criteria where he could depart from the prescribed sentence, most notably because of the seriousness.
“Causing the death of a child is about as grave a crime as can be imagined,” he said.
Heslinga said the couple’s two remaining minor children will be placed in the care of friends and family — which Murphy noted could put them at risk for illness or even death because of religious beliefs.
The Rossiters are members of the Church of the First Born, a fundamentalist sect that believes traditional medical treatment is sinful, and instead trust in God to heal them through faith, according to police and court documents.
Both Wenona and Travis Rossiter addressed the court during Friday’s hearing.
“There isn’t a day that goes on that I don’t miss my daughter. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could go back and I wish I could have known and I could have done something,” Wenona Rossiter said.
“It is hard to me as a mother to think ... I failed her,” Wenona Rossiter added.
“She was one of the best things in my life,” Travis Rossiter said.
Both lamented that the prison sentence meant they would lose years with their other children.
In the trial’s opening arguments, defense attorneys said the couple thought their daughter merely had the flu.
Prosecutor Keith Stein said during the trial that the Rossiters were unwilling to provide medical care under any circumstances for their daughter.
As she suffered from untreated diabetes, Syble Rossiter went through severe weight loss and appeared emaciated, Stein said.
On the day of her death, she was extremely thirsty and dehydrated, vomited and urinated out everything she took into her system, got so weak she couldn’t stand, and her parents even bought adult diapers for her, Stein said.
Wenona Rossiter’s parents were the first people in Oregon to be prosecuted for following their religion rather than taking a sick chid for medical care.
Her brother, Anthony Hays, 7, died of leukemia in 1994, after their parents failed to provide medical care for him.
In 1996, a Linn County jury convicted Loyd Hays of Brownsville on charges of criminally negligent homicide. His wife, Christina Hays, was acquitted.
The family also was in the Linn County courts in 1981, when they lost a battle to keep an infant girl from getting medical treatment for a condition that causes the skull to swell.
That girl was the aunt of Wenona Rossiter.