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Pa. couple sent to prison for 2nd prayer death

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From page A5 | February 20, 2014 | 2 Comments

PHILADELPHIA — A couple who believed in faith-healing were sentenced Wednesday to 3 1/2 to seven years in prison in the death of a second child who never saw a doctor despite being stricken with pneumonia.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible defied a court order to get medical care for their children after their 2-year-old son, Kent, died in 2009. Instead, they tried to comfort and pray over 8-month-old Brandon last year as he, too, died of treatable pneumonia.

“My religious beliefs are that you should pray, and not have to use medicine. But because it is against the law, then whatever sentence you give me, I will accept,” Catherine Schaible, 44, told the judge. She added that her beliefs have since changed.

The Schaibles are third-generation members of an insular Pentecostal community, the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia, where they also taught at the church school. They have seven surviving children.

Judge Benjamin Lerner rejected defense claims that their religious beliefs “clashed” with the 2011 court order to get annual checkups and call a doctor if a child became ill. The order came after a jury convicted them of involuntary manslaughter in Kent’s death, and they were sentenced to 10 years of probation.

“April of 2013 wasn’t Brandon’s time to die,” Lerner said, noting the violence committed throughout human history in the name of religion. “You’ve killed two of your children. … Not God. Not your church. Not religious devotion. You.”

Experts say about a dozen U.S. children die in faith-healing cases each year.

The Schaibles are the rare couple to lose a second child that way. Their pastor, Nelson Clark, blamed Kent’s death on a “spiritual lack” in the parents’ lives, and insisted they would never seek medical care, even if another child was dying.

“It was so foreseeable to me that this was going to happen,” said Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, who prosecuted both cases. “Everybody in the system failed these children.”

After the first death, she and public defender Mythri Jayaraman agreed that the couple’s beliefs were so ingrained that their children remained at risk. They asked the earlier judge to have the family supervised by a Department of Human Services caseworker. Instead, the judge assigned them to probation officers, who are not trained to monitor children’s welfare.

Pescatore has called Brandon’s symptoms “eerily similar” to Kent’s. They included labored breathing and a refusal to eat.

In his police statement last year, Herbert Schaible, 45, said, “We believe in divine healing, that Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil’s power.”

The Schaibles pleaded no contest to third-degree murder in Brandon’s death, and faced a maximum 20- to 40-year term. Pescatore asked for eight to 16 years, while Jayaraman sought less than two years for Catherine Schaible.

“I didn’t know what to do when Brandon was sick, because it was much quicker,” said Catherine Schaible, who said he died within a few days. “The D.A. is actually right. I feel like I failed as a mother because they’re not alive.”

Herbert Schaible has already served about a year, while his wife has been free on bail.

A videotape played in court showed her on a weekly supervised visit, when she brought her children their favorite meals, along with games and birthday treats. Six of them are now in foster care, some with relatives. They attend public schools for the first time, and are getting medical, dental and vision care. Several now wear glasses.

The oldest child, who is 18, sat in court with his grandparents, the family pastor and other supporters. They listened as Herbert Schaible’s lawyer called the patriarch “a good man, a righteous man, a spiritual man.”

“He’s still grieving the loss of his two sons,” lawyer Bobby Hoof said.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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Discussion | 2 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • PornacFebruary 20, 2014 - 7:01 am

    God will save us.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksFebruary 20, 2014 - 7:32 am

    Wise up people, this behavior is becoming more prevalent and it isn't necessary to kill your kid. C'mon, if you believe in a god that's great but using that belief, why wouldn't you understand that the doctors are telling you that god has provided them with the tools to fix your children's health issues? How could you possibly have so much faith you'd sit and watch your child pass away? DIE no less from an easily treatable illness! I know doctors have an oath that sort of covers both faith and the Constitution I get that. But the law is the law so why would they not be bound by that first? Take the kids and heal them, deal with the results later. At least they're friggin alive! I have absolutely no use for individuals like this and doctors should have the law and responsibility on their side to make this right.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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