Pennsylvania Christian Couple On Trial For Death Of 2-Yr-Old Daughter After Refusing To Seek Medical Attention Because Of Religious Belief

Jonathan D. Foster

Reading Eagle

“The trial for an Upper Tulpehocken Township couple who didn’t seek medical attention for their 2-year-old daughter before she died of a treatable form of pneumonia in November 2016 is set to begin next week in Berks County Court.

Jonathan D. Foster, 35, and Grace Anne Foster, 33, are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child in the death of Ella Grace Foster.

The couple did not seek any medical care for their ailing daughter because of their religious beliefs. The Fosters belong to Faith Tabernacle Congregation, a religious sect that does not believe in any type of medical intervention, only faith healing.

Jury selection is expected to begin Monday morning before Judge. M. Theresa Johnson.

During a hearing last week preparing for trial, Assistant District Attorney Katie Lehman asked the judge to not allow the defense to raise the couple’s religious beliefs as a defense to the charges.

Lehman said the Fosters’ beliefs will certainly come up in the trial and expects an argument that it influenced their decision, but noted that Pennsylvania law does not allow religious beliefs to be presented as a justification for the crime.

Defense attorney R. Davis Younts of Harrisburg agreed that it’s not a defense and that a jury shouldn’t find them not guilty simply because of their faith.

Johnson granted Lehman’s request.

Grace Anne Foster

According to authorities:

The toddler died about 1 p.m. Nov. 8, 2016, in the family’s home in the first block of Talbert Road.

State police went to the home that afternoon after being summoned by a funeral home that the couple contacted to remove their daughter’s body.

Jonathan and Grace Anne gave troopers the same account when interviewed. Their daughter started showing signs of a cold a few days prior and wasn’t as energetic as normal.

She had a sore, raspy throat and struggled to sleep the night before she died. That evening the couple asked their pastor, Rowland Foster, who is also the girl’s grandfather, to come to the home to pray and anoint her with oils.

On Nov. 8, Grace Anne Foster called her husband home from work after Ella Grace’s breathing became labored. When he got home, he held his daughter in his arms as her breathing became rapid. He held her for roughly an hour until she stopped breathing.

Dr. Neil A. Hoffman, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, testified at a previous hearing that Ella Grace would have been fighting to breathe and coughing uncontrollably due to pneumonia. He said it would have been obvious to any reasonable person that she needed medical intervention.

The defense has previously argued that the girl’s illness had a rapid onset and her parents made a judgment call.

Lehman also requested last week that Johnson not allow any singing or humming in the presence of the jury. The prosecutor said she expects a large group of supporters for the Fosters and noted there had been humming during prior hearings.

Johnson said she would instruct everyone in the courtroom that there would be no talking or noise from the galley while the trial is in session.

The couple previously gave up custody of their other six children, ages 1 to 12 years. The decision was made when prosecutors attempted to add conditions to the couple’s bail that would have ensured they were getting proper medical care for the other children.

Authorities said at the time that the children would be kept together and placed in the care of a family that will make sure they receive proper medical care.

Prosecutors had also sought charges against Rowland Foster, the pastor, for failing to report child abuse, but Johnson dismissed the case in December after finding there was insufficient evidence.”

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