Phila. judge holds Schaibles in custody

Catherine and Herbert Schaible were charged with third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, other offenses.
Catherine and Herbert Schaible were charged with third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, other offenses. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: May 25, 2013

Concerned that religious supporters in other parts of the country might help secrete Catherine and Herbert Schaible away, a Philadelphia judge has detained the couple, who allowed a second child to die because they believe medical care is a sin.

Attorneys for the Schaibles had asked Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner to allow the faith-healing parents to remain free pending their preliminary hearing in June. The lawyers argued that their clients were law-abiding, did not pose a threat to society, and that their remaining seven children, now in temporary foster care, were safe.

"What I'm concerned about is not what could happen overnight," Lerner said. "They may find communities in the country, or outside the country, who might want to protect them."

"And by protect them, you mean harbor them?" asked Mythri Jayaraman, the defense attorney for Catherine Schaible.

"Yes," the judge said.

The Schaibles were arrested Wednesday and charged with third-degree murder for refusing medical treatment for their 8-month-old, Brandon. They prayed for four days over the boy, who died in April of bacterial pneumonia, severe dehydration, and strep.

In 2009, they prayed for a week and a half as their 2-year-old son, Kent, lay dying of bacterial pneumonia. After the child's death, the court put the Schaibles on probation for 10 years and ordered them to provide health care for their remaining children.

As members of the First Century Gospel Church in Northeast Philadelphia, they believe sickness is a mark of "spiritual lack." Prayer, not medicine, is the only way to address it, they hold.

"His faith cut both ways," said Bobby Hoof, attorney for Herbert Schaible, 44, explaining that his client was a deeply moral and principled man who "honors the court."

"That's hard to accept," Lerner said, "when this court has already found that Mr. and Mrs. Schaible dishonored the court."

Lerner recounted how, on Feb. 2, 2011, after the Schaibles were convicted of involuntary manslaughter in their son Kent's death, Herbert Schaible stood in court and promised to accept the conditions of his probation.

And yet, the judge said, when Brandon died, Herbert Schaible told a homicide detective, "Of course we didn't take him to a doctor."

The judge, however, said he was willing to work with the couple's defense attorneys.

He respectfully pushed back when Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore made an impassioned plea to keep the Schaibles behind bars, saying, "They don't get it. . . . Their second child is dead. Dead! . . . These are people who thumb their nose at the law."

"That's a sentencing argument," Lerner said. "A persuasive one."

But making that case was premature, he said, until the couple are properly tried and the presumption of innocence is gone.

"I don't have to hear any more," Lerner said about a half-hour into the proceedings. He ruled that the couple must remain in custody for the time being.

They will be permitted to continue their twice-weekly, two-hour supervised visits with their children, he said. "I don't want to cut them off completely from their children. I don't think that's good for the children."

Lerner said that if the Schaibles posted bail, set at $250,000 each, he might consider house arrest or another arrangement.

"I'll certainly be open-eared and open-minded," he said.

Contact Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590,, or follow on Twitter @dribbenonphilly.

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