PHILADELPHIA — After their 2-year-old son died of untreated pneumonia in 2009, faith-healing advocates Herbert and Catherine Schaible promised a judge they would not let another sick child go without medical care.
But now they’ve lost an 8-month-old in what a prosecutor called “eerily similar” circumstances. Instead of another involuntary-manslaughter charge, the Schaibles are now charged with third-degree murder.
“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,” Herbert Schaible, 44, told Philadelphia homicide detectives after their ninth child, Brandon, died in April. Medicine, he said, “is against our religious beliefs.”
The Schaibles were ordered held without bail Friday, two days after their arrest, although defense lawyers said they are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
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“He is incarcerated because of his faith,” said lawyer Bobby Hoof, who described client Herbert Schaible’s mindset as resolute.
The only people theoretically at risk are the couple’s seven surviving children, who are in foster care, the lawyers said.
A judge acknowledged the couple had never missed a court date in the first case but said he worried that might change amid the more serious charges. And he feared they may have supporters who would harbor them.
“Throughout this country … there are churches like the Schaibles’ whose members and leaders probably don’t think they did anything wrong, and might be willing — to paraphrase the Schaibles’ pastor — to put their interpretation of God’s will above the law,” Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner said.
About a dozen children die each year in the U.S. when parents turn to faith healing instead of medicine, typically from highly treatable problems, said Shawn Francis Peters, a University of Wisconsin lecturer who has studied faith-healing deaths.
At the Schaibles’ sentencing in February 2011 in their son Kent’s death, they agreed to follow terms of the 10-year probation, which included an order to get their children regular checkups and sick visits as needed.
Catherine Schaible, 43, let her husband speak for her and never addressed the judge.
The Schaibles belong to a small, insular circle of believers. Both are third-generation members and former teachers at their fundamentalist Christian church, the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia.
Their pastor, Nelson Clark, has said the Schaibles lost their sons because of a “spiritual lack” in their lives and insisted they would not seek medical care even if another child appeared near death.
For the Schaibles, a third-degree murder conviction could bring seven to 14 years in prison or more.