The death of the second child of a Philadelphia couple was due to their belief that the power of prayer and faith-healing was preferable to medical treatment.
As a result, Herbert and Catherine Schaible were sentenced on Wednesday to three-and-a-half to seven years in prison following the the death of their child. The parents never called a doctor, despite the fact that 8-month-old Brandon had pneumonia.
To put the tragedy in context, the parents were already in defiance of a 2011 court order for their children to get annual checkups, and call a doctor if a child became ill. That order followed the verdict of a jury which had convicted them of involuntary manslaughter of Kent, their 2-year-old son; they were sentenced to 10 years of probation.
They chose to ignore the order and instead tried to comfort and pray over 8-month-old Brandon last year as he, too, died of treatable pneumonia.
Herbert Schaible, 45, told the police:
“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.”
Catherine Schaible, 44, said that Brandon died within a few days after the first symptoms. “The D.A. is actually right. I feel like I failed as a mother because they’re not alive.”
She told the judge:
“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.”
However, she added that her beliefs have since changed.
The Schaibles belong to a Pentecostal community, the First Century Gospel Church, in northeast Philadelphia. They pleaded no contest to third-degree murder.
Judge Benjamin Lerner rejected defense claims regarding their religious beliefs. In noting the violence committed throughout human history in the name of religion, he said:
“April of 2013 wasn’t Brandon’s time to die. You’ve killed two of your children.… Not God. Not your church. Not religious devotion — you.”
The prosecutor in both cases was Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore. She commented, “It was so foreseeable to me that this was going to happen. Everybody in the system failed these children.”
Following the death of the first child she agreed with public defender, Mythri Jayaraman, that the remaining children would still be at risk. The judge decided that probation officers should deal with the situation instead of the Department of Human Services.
In retrospect that was probably a mistake, as caseworkers from that department are better trained to handle such cases.
The Schaibles have seven surviving children. Six of them are now in foster care, some with relatives. They now attend public schools, and receive medical, dental and vision care.
Around a dozen U.S. children die in similar prayer death or faith-healing cases each year. The maximum possible sentence on conviction is 20 – 40 years.