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Midstate pastor cleared of charge in pneumonia death of grandchild

Written by The Associated Press | Dec 19, 2017 1:05 PM
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FILE PHOTO: The Rev. Rowland Foster, center, shakes hands with defense attorney Chris Ferro, right, before a Wednesday, April 19, 2017, court hearing in Bernville. (AP Photo/Mark Scolforo)

(Reading) -- The pastor of a congregation in Mechanicsburg that avoids modern medicine was cleared of a charge that he should have alerted authorities of possible child abuse when his 2-year-old granddaughter was dying of pneumonia.

A judge has dismissed the charge of failure to report suspected abuse against Rowland G. Foster, 72, of Lebanon, in the death of Ella Grace Foster last year.

Berks County Judge Theresa Johnson ruled in a pretrial hearing there wasn't sufficient evidence to support the allegation.

Foster is pastor of Faith Tabernacle Congregation in Cumberland County, which instructs members to avoid doctors and pharmaceutical drugs. A forensic pathologist had testified that Ella would have almost certainly survived if she had been given antibiotics.

He did not make any statements during the hearing. Phone messages left at his home and his lawyer's office were not immediately returned today.

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The girl's parents, Jonathan D. Foster, 35, and Grace A. Foster, 33, are accused of involuntary manslaughter and endangering children. Their trial is set for March.

Under Pennsylvania law, Foster had a duty as a pastor to report her illness as a case of suspected abuse, prosecutors said.

According to police, Rowland Foster was summoned to the girl's home and anointed her head with oil. A funeral home notified police, who found her fully dressed and partially covered with a blanket.

Rowland Foster told an investigator he has never been to a doctor.

Foster's attorney said his client was not equipped to diagnose the girl's condition and did not act maliciously, but believed he was doing what was best for her.

The judge dismissed the charge after reviewing the contact Rowland Foster had with Ella before she died, and comparing it with the autopsy report, Berks County District Attorney John Adams said.

The case against Foster had been dismissed by a district judge after a preliminary hearing in April, but county prosecutors re-filed the charge.

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