PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia couple who believe in faith healing over medicine and have had two sons die of pneumonia will remain in custody on murder charges until a bail hearing Friday.
Herbert Schaible, 44, and his 43-year-old wife, Catherine, were charged Wednesday with third-degree murder in the April death of their 8-month-old son, Brandon.
A jury had convicted them of involuntary manslaughter after their 2-year-old son, Kent, died in 2009, and the couple were sentenced to 10 years of probation, during which they were required to get their other children routine and emergency medical care.
Yet prosecutors say the parents instead prayed over Brandon as he deteriorated in the days before he died and "flouted" the court order to call a doctor. Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore called the baby's death "eerily similar" to his brother's – and not unexpected.
"I knew at their sentencing that they were not going to follow the judge's instruction," Pescatore said amid the parents' arrests Wednesday. "It's sad for me to think that an 8-month-old child is dead at the hands of his own parents ... (and) I couldn't do anything to stop that."
The Schaibles have seven other children.
A transcript of a 2011 probation hearing shows that probation officers were confused by their mandate to oversee the required medical care, and felt powerless to carry it out.
One told the judge the only order in the file involved court fines. Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Engel Temin corrected the officer, saying there was "a very, very specific sentencing order," but one apparently missing from the computer file because of a "fluke."
"I can't check (on the medical visits), Your Honor. I don't have the authority to check. ... They're not my children," Parole Officer Latrell Dorsey said.
"You are to get authorization to talk to their medical professional," the judge said.
Herbert Schaible assured Temin that the children had gone to a city health clinic and that he would release the records.
"I knew this problem was going to happen," Pescatore told Temin, "because it's going to take a lot to ... deal with this situation. It's going to be a lot of work for the probation department."
The family was not being monitored by child-welfare workers, who are more accustomed to dealing with medical compliance. The judge found the Schaibles were following terms of their probation and sent them on their way.
The couple's surviving children are now in foster care. They range in age from about 2 to 17, and most attend a school affiliated with their parents' fundamentalist Christian church, the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia. Both parents have taught there, although each dropped out of school in the ninth grade.
Herbert Schaible stepped down as a teacher last month, after Brandon's death, when a judge removed the children while granting two supervised visits a week.
"He didn't want to come even close to violating their visitation rights (by seeing the children at school)," defense lawyer Bobby Hoof said.
The church's website quotes Bible verses purportedly forbidding Christians from visiting doctors or taking medicine and suggests it's a sin to trust in medicine over faith.
Hoof will ask a judge Friday to lower the bail, noting that the Schaibles are "of humble means" and have never missed a court date. He said his client was expecting to be charged after Brandon's death and surrendered willingly.
"He's not this monster that people are trying to paint him out to be," Hoof said Thursday.
Catherine Schaible's public defender, Mythri Jayaraman, has said Brandon saw a doctor at least once for a checkup when he was 10 days old.
"She's still dealing with a tremendous amount of grief," Jayaraman said this week.