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.” ••