Parents go before judge in case of toddler's death

JEFFERSON TWP., Pa. - The wheels of justice rolled forward Wednesday for a Berks County couple charged in the death of their 2-year-old daughter.

A district magistrate in Jefferson Township ordered Jonathan Foster, 34, and his wife, Grace Foster, 32, to stand trial following a preliminary hearing that lasted more than two hours.

The couple were arrested last week for allegedly failing to seek medical care for their daughter, Ella Grace, who died of pneumonia at the family's home in Upper Tulpehocken Township in November.

At the hearing, prosecutors called on the state police trooper who responded to the couple's home when the little girl died.

The couple, who did not take the stand, were supported by a crowded courtroom of family, friends, and coworkers, many of them tearful.

The parents are members of the non-denominational Faith Tabernacle Church in Lebanon. They said they don't believe in medicine or doctors, only in God's will.

During the hearing, Jonathan Foster called the charges unwarranted, saying the Constitution should protect his religious rights.

Prosecutors argued that the defendants' obligations as parents outweighed their First Amendment freedoms.

Before her death, Ella Grace would've had a fever of roughly 104 degrees and labored breathing, according to the prosecution.

The Fosters have six other children between the ages of seven months and 11 years. A case worker will monitor the well-being of the other children as the case proceeds.

Loved ones took the judge's deliberation time to hum songs, pray, and cry before the charges of involuntary manslaughter and endangering children were ordered held for trial.

The next court date is set for March 13.

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