Faith healing couple sent to jail

Herbert and Catherine Schaible were sentenced to up to seven years in prison for allowing their son to die without medical care.

  • Catherine Schaible

  • Herbert Schaible

  • A fatal decision: Herbert and Catherine Schaible, members of the First Century Gospel Church, failed to call a doctor when their 7-month-old son was sick. Instead, they prayed for his recovery. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Her­bert and Cath­er­ine Schaible found them­selves in a Phil­adelphia courtroom last week be­cause they didn’t get help for their ail­ing in­fant when he needed it most. Yet, the Schaibles used their sev­en sur­viv­ing chil­dren to beg the court for le­ni­ency.

Fol­low­ing an emo­tion­ally charged sen­ten­cing hear­ing on Feb. 19, Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Ben­jamin Lern­er ordered the Schaibles each to serve up to sev­en years in state pris­on for al­low­ing their 7-month-old son, Brandon, to die without med­ic­al care last April.

With Brandon suf­fer­ing from bac­teri­al pneu­mo­nia and de­hyd­ra­tion, the Schaibles failed to call a doc­tor, but in­stead called their church pas­tor and prayed for the child’s re­cov­ery. The death oc­curred with the “faith heal” prac­ti­tion­ers still serving court pro­ba­tion in con­nec­tion with the death of an­oth­er son, 2-year-old Kent, un­der sim­il­ar cir­cum­stances.

“This case has bothered me more than any oth­er case I’ve been in­volved in,” said a weep­ing As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Joanne Pes­catore, a 25-year vet­er­an pro­sec­utor who also handled the grue­some murder case of abor­tion doc­tor Ker­mit Gos­nell.

“I’ve seen more dead ba­bies and dead chil­dren in the last year than I ever want to see in my life. When I re­ceived a call that an­oth­er Schaible baby was dead, I didn’t know what to do. I told them it was go­ing to hap­pen again, but nobody listened.”

The Schaibles, of Rhawn­hurst, first gained no­tori­ety after Kent’s Jan. 25, 2009, death. Au­thor­it­ies spent months in­vest­ig­at­ing the du­bi­ous cir­cum­stances and ar­res­ted the par­ents on April 8 that year. The Schaibles, who are mem­bers of an in­de­pend­ent Chris­ti­an con­greg­a­tion in Ju­ni­ata Park called First Cen­tury Gos­pel Church, said they had placed their faith in God to heal the boy.

Judge Car­o­lyn En­gel Temin found the par­ents guilty of in­vol­un­tary man­slaughter and ordered them to serve 10 years pro­ba­tion on the con­di­tion that they get routine med­ic­al care for each of their sur­viv­ing chil­dren and con­sult with a phys­i­cian in case of ill­nesses.

When Brandon be­came ill last April, they dis­obeyed Temin’s or­der and neg­lected to call a doc­tor. Church lead­ers were aware of the ill­ness and vis­ited the couple’s home to par­ti­cip­ate in pray­er, ac­cord­ing to testi­mony at a pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing last June. The pas­tor and his as­sist­ant have claimed that they did not ad­vise the couple not to seek med­ic­al help. The boy died on April 18. Au­thor­it­ies ar­res­ted both par­ents for murder and re­lated of­fenses on May 22.

Their sev­en sur­viv­ing chil­dren were placed in foster care. Her­bert Schaible was jailed at Cur­ran-From­hold Cor­rec­tion­al Fa­cil­ity, while Cath­er­ine was freed on bail and un­der house ar­rest. In Novem­ber, the Schaibles pleaded nolo con­tendere, or “no con­test,” to the charges.

“I am sorry about my son. It was the most hor­rible thing I lived through in my life and I feel I failed as a moth­er be­cause I’m still alive,” Cath­er­ine Schaible said at her sen­ten­cing hear­ing. “One of the things I tried to do was deal with Kent and that made it hard to deal with Brandon. I just didn’t know what to do with Brandon.”

“I am ex­tremely sorry about my sons,” said Her­bert Schaible. “I would trade places with them if I could. … We can have our faith but we have to fol­low (the law). I know we slipped in a ma­jor way.”

Dur­ing the hear­ing, Lern­er al­lowed Cath­er­ine Schaible’s at­tor­ney, pub­lic de­fend­er My­thri Ja­yara­man, to air a five-minute video show­ing the Schaible chil­dren vis­it­ing with their moth­er at a hu­man ser­vices agency dur­ing Christ­mas­time. Ja­yara­man de­scribed Cath­er­ine Schaible as a “de­voted” and “com­mit­ted” moth­er whose chil­dren — now ages 4 through 18 — need her in their lives. Ja­yara­man asked the court to sen­tence Cath­er­ine to a county pris­on sen­tence of 12-1/2 to 23 months with house ar­rest, which would’ve al­lowed the moth­er to re­main close to the chil­dren throughout her in­car­cer­a­tion.

“I don’t think there’s any­body in here who wouldn’t ar­gue that she was an in­cred­ibly de­voted moth­er,” Ja­yara­man said.

Pes­catore did not con­test Ja­yara­man’s re­quest for Lern­er to al­low Cath­er­ine to re­port to pris­on after March 12, so the moth­er could cel­eb­rate a daugh­ter’s birth­day in per­son.

Her­bert Schaible’s court-ap­poin­ted at­tor­ney, Bobby Hoof, de­scribed his cli­ent as a former car­penter and church school teach­er who was “al­ways able to provide food, shel­ter and cloth­ing” for his chil­dren.

“Mis­ter Schaible is a good man, a right­eous man and a spir­itu­al man,” Hoof said. “This is a crime of omis­sion, not com­mis­sion.”

Lern­er gave the de­fend­ants a break on their pris­on terms. Each faced a pos­sible 20 to 40 years in pris­on for the murder charge alone. The “stand­ard range” sen­tence for each would have been at least eight years. The de­fend­ants could be re­leased in as little as 3-1/2 years. They would not be­come eli­gible to re­gain cus­tody of their minor chil­dren un­til after serving 30 ad­di­tion­al months pro­ba­tion. Ul­ti­mately, a Fam­ily Court judge will de­term­ine the dis­pos­i­tion of the kids.

“I know from the evid­ence in this case that April 2013 was not Brandon’s time to die,” Lern­er said. “The Lord did not take him. You two took him. I share the com­munity’s out­rage at these killings and that’s what they were, killings.” ••

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