Parents get 10 years' probation in child's faith-healing death
By Joseph A. Slobodzian | Inquirer Staff Writer
Herbert and Catherine Schaible, the Rhawnhurst couple who practiced faith-healing as their 2-year-old son died of bacterial pneumonia, will not be going to prison.
They will, however, be taking their seven surviving children to a doctor from now on.
Although the Schaibles, convicted in December of involuntary manslaughter, will have to commit what their church considers a sin, medical care is an integral part of the 10 years' probation imposed Wednesday by Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Engle Temin.
Temin said she had "thought long and hard about this sentencing" and had ruled out prison. But she made clear that they must get regular medical exams and care for their seven children, now 1 to 15, until they turn 18.
Herbert Schaible, 42, who teaches at a school run by the fundamentalist First Century Gospel Church of Juniata Park, made a brief statement expressing remorse. He said he "accepted the jury's verdict" and asked for leniency. Afterward, he declined to further comment.
Catherine Schaible, 41, whose father is principal of the school, declined to speak before sentencing.
Bobby Hoof, Herbert Schaible's attorney, said the sentence gave the couple 30 days to set up exams for each child with a "qualified medical practitioner."
The Schaibles must schedule follow-up visits as the doctor recommends and must seek medical care if the children even get a cold, Hoof said.
The couple also agreed to submit to periodic checks by probation officers and to open their children's medical records as requested.
Violating those terms could put the Schaibles in prison, Hoof said.
The Schaibles could each have been sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and 31/2 to 7 years for endangering the welfare of a child.
However, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said she was less interested in prison time than in the assurance that the children would regularly see a doctor.
"It was a fair sentence," Pescatore said afterward. "It will be time-consuming, but the probation officer is really going to have to pay attention to make sure they're following through with this."
Hoof said the sentence sent a clear message that "religious freedom is trumped by the safety of children."
At the Schaibles' trial, witnesses testified that for two weeks, Kent had fought what began as a cold, but progressed into bacterial pneumonia. The couple prayed over their son and thought he might be getting well.
But on the night of Jan. 24, 2009, they discovered Kent dead in bed. They called their church's assistant pastor, Ralph Myers, who joined them in prayer and then called a funeral director.
"We tried to fight the devil, but in the end, the devil won," Herbert Schaible told homicide detectives in a statement read to the jury at trial.
The Schaibles' church considers seeking medical care to be a sin and a lack of faith in God. It does shun those who see a doctor.
The church's teaching has at times put it at odds with civil authorities, notably in 1991, when a city measles epidemic killed eight children. Their parents belonged to either First Century Gospel Church or nearby Faith Tabernacle of Nicetown, which also espouses faith-healing.
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