OKANOGAN, Wash. – A pretrial ruling upholding a state law that allows faith healing for Christian Scientists but not other religions will go unchallenged now that Greg and JaLea Swezey agreed to plea deals, their lawyer says.
As members of the Church of the First Born, the Swezeys believe in faith healing. They were accused of failing to call a doctor while their 17-year-old son died of a ruptured appendix, and they prayed for him to get better.
Before their trial, Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp declined to dismiss their case after their attorneys argued that they were not being treated equally under the law.
State law – RCW 9A.42.005 – allows treatment by a “duly accredited Christian Science practitioner in lieu of medical care” but does not include treatment by other church practitioners.
“They never wanted to be the poster child for changing the law in Washington, even though the law begs to be changed,” said Omak attorney Douglas “Gil” Webber, who represented Greg Swezey.
The Swezeys were acquitted of second-degree murder after a four-day trial in mid-May, but the jury could not agree on whether the Carlton couple should be convicted of second-degree manslaughter.
On Thursday, rather than face a retrial on manslaughter charges, JaLea Swezey pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal mistreatment on Thursday, and Greg Swezey signed papers agreeing to plead guilty to the same crime after two years, if he follows court orders and commits no felonies during that time.
Webber said by signing a plea deal, the Swezeys gave up their right to appeal the judge’s ruling.
“It’s a bizarre thing that that law is out there,” he added.
A spokesperson for the Christian Science Church previously declined to define what it means to be a duly accredited practitioner.
Rita Swan, president of CHILD Inc., a national nonprofit group to that works to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, said Christian Science practitioners are not medically trained. She said while they are required to report child abuse and neglect to the state, the state Department of Social and Health Services does not include them in their list of mandated child abuse reporters.
She said she’s disappointed that attorneys for the Swezeys won’t be appealing the ruling.
“I understand they have to do what’s in the best interest of their clients,” she said, adding, “maybe there will be enough publicity that it will motivate the Legislature to change this.”