Judge rejects call to increase prison sentences of faith-healing parents

Posted: March 17, 2014

SAYING THAT the punishment should fit the criminal - not the crime - a Philadelphia judge yesterday affirmed the relatively short prison sentences he gave a faith-healing couple who have been convicted in the deaths of two children.

In rejecting a motion from the district attorney to more than double the sentences of Herbert and Catherine Schaible, Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner said they do not fit the mode of those who are usually convicted of abusing or killing children.

"These are not uncaring, unloving parents," said Lerner, who last month sentenced the couple to 3 1/2 to 7 years in state prison and 30 months of reporting probation for the third-degree murder of their son Brandon, who was nearly 8 months old.

Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore had argued for the sentences to be increased to 8 to 16 years. She noted that the couple was on probation for the 2009 death of another son, Kent, 2, at the time of Brandon's death in April of last year.

Both boys died of bacterial pneumonia after their parents prayed for them rather than seek medical care.

After being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Kent's death, the couple was sentenced to 10 years of probation and ordered to get their remaining children regular medical care.

But they did not do that, said Pescatore, who complained that Lerner failed to sentence the couple for violating their probation order.

She questioned why Lerner had given them a shorter sentence for Brandon's third-degree murder than they would have gotten if they were convicted of aggravated assault of a child under 12 - which is a mandatory 5 to 10 years.

"Where is the balance here?" Pescatore asked.

Her office has until next week to appeal Lerner's decision.

Lerner said he did factor the probation violation into the sentences, which he called "fair, just and appropriate."

Herbert, 45, and Catherine, 44, are lifelong members of the First Century Gospel Church in Juniata Park, which shuns modern medicine and preaches that the sick can be healed through prayer.

On Twitter: @MensahDean

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