No-contest plea by parents in faith-healing death of 2d child

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Catherine and Herbert Schaible: No break.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Catherine and Herbert Schaible: No break.
Posted: November 16, 2013

PHILADELPHIA Herbert and Catherine Schaible - the Philadelphia couple who have watched two children die because of their own belief in prayer over medicine - entered no-contest pleas Thursday to third-degree murder in the April death of their 8-month-old son.

The decision - seven months after Brandon Schaible developed bacterial pneumonia and died, untreated, at their Rhawnhurst home - was a reluctant admission that if they didn't consider themselves guilty of a crime, prosecutors did.

The Schaibles were serving 10 years' probation on their conviction for involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of another son, Kent, 2. Part of that probation included mandatory medical care for their seven surviving children, the oldest of whom is about 17.

Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner set sentencing for Feb. 19, and the Schaibles could face significant prison terms.

Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, who prosecuted both cases against the couple, said the plea contained no agreement on sentencing.

"It's no holds barred," Pescatore said.

Still, the sentence will likely be less than if they had gone to trial and been convicted of third-degree murder, which carries a statutory sentence of 10 to 20 years.

Mythri Jayaraman, the attorney for Catherine Schaible, 44, said the no-contest plea would allow her to focus on presenting a fuller picture of the Schaibles, their religious beliefs, and their background for the judge to consider in sentencing.

"We want to develop the other side of the story," Jayaraman added.

"Honestly, on the facts of the case," said Bobby Hoof, the lawyer for Herbert Schaible, 45, "he didn't want to go to trial."

The Schaibles each pleaded no contest to third-degree murder, child endangerment, and conspiracy.

Legally, a no-contest plea carries the same weight as a guilty plea. For some defendants, however, saying they will not contest the facts of a criminal case enables them to make the decision not to go to trial.

Both Schaibles gave statements to homicide detectives after Brandon's April 18 death, in which they admitted they did not follow the terms of their probation.

"My husband and I decided we wanted to trust in God," Catherine Schaible told detectives, explaining why they did not take Brandon to a doctor.

In 2010, a Philadelphia jury convicted the Schaibles of involuntary manslaughter in the Jan. 24, 2009, death of Kent, who also succumbed to bacterial pneumonia as the couple and their pastor prayed.

The Schaibles are members of First Century Gospel Church, a primitive-Christian congregation in Juniata Park that teaches that healing comes from prayer and that relying on medicine or doctors is a lack of faith in God.

Herbert Schaible is in prison with bail set at $250,000; his wife was released in June after members of the church helped her raise the required 10 percent of her $250,000 bail. She remains on electronically monitored house arrest at her parents' home in Summerdale.

Catharine Schaible may leave her parents' house only for court, to meet her lawyer, and to go to court-supervised visits with the couple's surviving children, who have been in foster care since Brandon died.


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

www.inquirer.com/crimeandpunishment

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