Herbert and Catherine Schaible — the couple who chose “divine healing” over medical care in the death of their 8-month-old son in April — will both face charges of third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, a Philadelphia judge ruled Wednesday afternoon.
If guilty of third-degree murder, the Schaibles could each face 20 to 40 years in prison. An arraignment date for the case was set for July 3.
The couple had been on probation for what prosecutors called an “eerily similar” pneumonia death of a 2-year-old son in 2009. One condition of that probation was to provide medical care for their other children.
According to testimony, that did not happen.
Even after Brandon stopped breathing, the couple called for their pastor, citing a strong belief that God would revive the infant. “We believe in divine healing,” Catherine Schaible told police in April in a statement read in court.
“Their belief outweighed what they had to do for the child,” assistant district attorney Joanne Pescatore said in court, visibly agitated. “They did nothing to help that child. That’s why it’s malice. That’s why it’s murder.”
Statements Herbert Schaible made to police immediately after his son’s death were read in court, including one where he told officers he did not regret his actions, saying religious convictions prohibit him and his wife from seeking medical care.
Court-appointed defense attorneys argued that the Schaibles had acted in good faith, and that they couldn’t have known that three days of sickness would lead to death.
“But for the other situation with the Schaibles, it is my belief that this case would not have been ruled a homicide,” Bobby Hoof, the lawyer representing Herbert Shcaible, said after the hearing. “It’s not unreasonable for a parent to wait three days with these kind of symptoms.”
According to court testimony, those symptoms included difficulty breathing, irritability and decreased appetite. Statements from Catherine Schaible, however, indicate that the child may have been sick for a total of six days.
The cause of death was bacterial pneumonia in combination with severe dehydration, according to testimony from the medical examiner.
Pescatore had argued that failing to take the baby to the doctor was enough to merit a murder charge.
“They knew, they were on notice, you couldn’t be more clear,” Pescatore told reporters after the hearing. “These are parents that are on probation for doing the same exact thing to a child 2-and-a-half years ago, and they did it once again.”
According to testimony, the family are longtime members of the First Century Gospel Church, located in Northeast Philadelphia.
The Schaibles’ seven surviving children are now in foster care. Herbert and Catherine will remain in custody.