Herbert and Catherine Schaible’s pastor testified in court on Friday that he asked the Rhawnhurst couple about contacting a medical clinic or their probation officer for their ailing 7-month-old son, Brandon, days before the infant died of pneumonia in the absence of medical care.
Pastor Nelson Clark of the First Century Gospel Church in Juniata Park testified that he spoke with Herbert by telephone twice in the days leading up to the boy’s April 18 death. The boy’s father allegedly refused to seek professional help, however, citing his belief that Brandon’s fate should rest with God.
The church’s assistant pastor, Ralph Myers, visited the Schaibles twice that week to pray with them for “the healing of the child.” On the second visit, Brandon “was dead before I got there,” Myers told the court.
Both parents face third-degree murder charges in connection with the infant’s death. Last Thursday, Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner refused to lift a detainer on Herbert Schaible that would have allowed him to be released on $250,000 bail pending a trial.
But, on Friday, Lerner lifted a similar detainer on Catherine after her father agreed to post 10 percent of the bail amount and assume responsibility for Catherine’s compliance with house arrest.
The church leaders each told the court that they had not instructed the Schaibles to forego professional medical care, although some members of their church believe in so-called faith healing.
“The belief is if we misplace our trust on anything but God, then we betray God,” Myers explained under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore.
Later under cross-examination, Myers said, “I think [the Schaibles] were just trying to follow the letter of the scripture.”
Clark testified that Herbert explained the couple’s reasoning in one telephone conversation: “[Herbert said] that if he would call anyone, it would be a denial of his faith in God healing the child. … I felt he could let someone know without denying his faith.”
Myers further stated that some church members do seek medical help when they are sick. The Schaibles, he said, would not have been shunned by the congregation.
The Schaibles and First Century Church made headlines in 2009 when the couple allowed another son, 2-year-old Kent, to die under similar circumstances. They were convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011 and sentenced to 10 years probation with a requirement that they seek medical care for any of their other children when they became ill. The Schaibles have seven surviving children, ages 8 to 17, who have been in foster care since the parents’ latest arrests.
Regardless of the church’s stance on faith-healing, its leaders also preach that wives are subordinate to their husbands. Catherine Schaible’s defense attorney, Mythri Jayaraman, attempted to use that church teaching to divert blame from her client.
Clark testified that wives should defer to the husband’s leadership according to the church’s doctrine, although wives may be involved in family decision-making.
“The husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the church,” the pastor said. “[Catherine] would have a say, but she wouldn’t make the decision.”
Later in the hearing, Myers testified that, “The wife can certainly have her opinion, but in this case it didn’t go that way.”
Pescatore, the prosecutor, argued that Catherine is as culpable as her husband in Brandon’s death.
“She is the child’s mother and he is the father. They both have equal responsibility no matter what the church teaches,” Pescatore argued.
According to Clark, the Schaibles had been taking their children to a local medical clinic in accordance with their probation prior to Brandon’s illness, including one instance when a 14-year-old son wasn’t feeling well.
“The doctor recommended a hot shower and a hot bowl of soup,” Clark said.
Lerner cited several factors in granting Catherine Schaible house arrest, despite keeping her husband behind bars. She is less of a flight risk because her father is posting bail and would have to forfeit the full amount were she to flee prosecution. William Richard Wakefield told Lerner that he would use $25,000 from a personal bank account to pay for his daughter’s release.
Lerner further noted that it’s in the children’s best interests to have regular supervised contact with at least one of their parents. He permitted Catherine to leave her parents’ home at an undisclosed Roosevelt Boulevard address only to appear in court, to visit her attorney and to see her children.
Both Schaibles are scheduled for arraignments and preliminary hearings on Aug. 7. ••