Pastor won't face trial in girl's faith-healing death

AP News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2017 1:11 PM

BERNVILLE, Pa. (AP) — The leader of a Pennsylvania church that rejects modern medicine won't stand trial after a judge dismissed a novel case that sought to hold the pastor responsible for failing to report suspected abuse when his own granddaughter died of pneumonia.

A district judge found insufficient evidence to support the felony charge against the Rev. Rowland Foster in the November death of 2-year-old Ella Foster.

Foster serves as pastor of Faith Tabernacle Congregation, part of a fundamentalist Christian sect that instructs members to eschew treatment by physicians and the use of pharmaceutical drugs.

The church's stance against modern medicine has resulted in the deaths of dozens of children from preventable or treatable illnesses, most in Pennsylvania, according to an advocacy group that tracks faith-based medical neglect. Their members hoped the prosecution of the pastor might spur change in a church that has resisted it.

"I think there's just a lack of evidence all the way around," defense lawyer Chris Ferro said. "This is a grieving grandfather, not a criminal."

Ella Foster likely suffered from severely labored breathing and a temperature of about 104 on the day she died, police said in charging documents, citing a forensic pathologist. She almost certainly would have survived had she been given antibiotics, the pathologist said.

The girl's parents, Jonathan and Grace Foster, summoned the elder Foster to their home while she was dying, and he anointed her head with oil. Police called after she died found her body fully dressed, covered with a blanket.

Rev. Foster, 72, told police he has never been to a doctor.

The girl's parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter and await trial. They have relinquished custody of their six other children.