OREGON CITY, Ore. (KOIN) — They are simple words and just three signatures, but prosecutors hope they are the key to keep more children from dying in a faith healing church in Oregon City.
KOIN 6 News has obtained a copy of the actual statement signed by the parents of Ginnifer Mitchell, who were sentenced to prison Monday for her death. In the letter, they renounce the faith healing beliefs that have been the foundation for their church and lives.
The statement reads:
We should have sought adequate medical care for our children and everyone in the church should always seek adequate medical care for our children.”
It’s signed by Sarah and Travis Mitchell.
The statement also bares the signature of Sarah’s father, Walter Matthew White, who goes by Matt. The symbolism is important, because the White family is at the heart of the Followers of Christ Church. Matt White’s grandfather of the same name, was the original minister who broke the faith healing sect off from other branches in Idaho and brought his congregation to Oregon City decades ago.
Sarah’s sister, Shannon Hickman went to prison in 2011 for the death of her own newborn. In the last decade, five Followers of Christ couples have been prosecuted in Clackamas County for denying their children health care. Four of the children died. The congregation’s cemetery south of Oregon City has dozens of grave markers with children buried underneath.
The signed letter was a requirement of the Clackamas County District Attorney as part of a plea bargain with the Mitchells. It must be posted in the church. In exchange, the couple got 6 years and 8 months in prison. They avoided the possibility of being found guilty of murder and a 25-year sentence. Prosecutors hope the Mitchells’ letter denouncing their faith healing beliefs will influence other church members to get their children medical care.
“We believe we have taken a large step forward in that respect. The family members in this case have, for the first, time, plead guilty and accepted criminal responsibility for their behavior,” wrote Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote. “And they have also publicly acknowledged that they must seek adequate medical care for their children and they want all of their fellow church members to do the same. This kind of public declaration has never been made before by such central figures in the church as Walter White and his daughter and her husband. We believe this holds great promise moving forward.”