A Philadelphia couple who lost a second son by trying to cure him with prayer instead of science have been sentenced to prison in the death of the boy, who was ill with pneumonia but never saw a physician.
Judge Benjamin Lerner sentenced Herbert and Catherine Schaible to 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison. They pleaded no contest to third-degree murder in the death of their 8-month-old son, Brandon, avoiding a trial and the maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison.
“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,” he said in court, according to media reports.
Experts say about a dozen U.S. children die in faith-healing cases each year, but multiple deaths in one family is rarer. “I have never seen in my career a case like this,” Lerner said in handing down the sentence.
The Schaibles are third-generation members of the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia, and taught at the church’s school.
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.”
He and his wife applied their teachings in 2009 when their son Kent, 2, died of bacterial pneumonia. They were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and put on 10 years’ probation on the condition their surviving children got annual physical checkups and were taken to a medical professional if they were ill.
“It was so foreseeable to me that this was going to happen,” said assistant Dist. Atty. Joanne Pescatore, who prosecuted both cases, according to the Associated Press. “Everybody in the system failed these children.”
After the first child’s 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, according to the wire service.
Pescatore has called Brandon’s symptoms “eerily similar” to Kent’s. They included labored breathing and a refusal to eat.
“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, said in court.
She added that her beliefs have since changed.