PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia couple who believes in faith healing over medicine was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on murder charges in the second pneumonia death of one of their children in a four-year span.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible remained held without bail on third-degree murder charges after their preliminary hearing.
Their two-year-old son Kent died in 2009, followed by 8-month-old Brandon in April. Prosecutors contend both boys were sick for nearly two weeks.
The Schaibles are both third-generation members and former teachers at their small fundamentalist Christian church, the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia. They have seven surviving children.
"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, said in a police statement read in court Wednesday. Medicine, he said, "is against our religious beliefs."
Added his wife, in her statement: "It means that we pray and ask to be healed the way that Jesus did when he was on Earth."
A jury had convicted them of involuntary manslaughter in Kent's death, and they were put on 10 years of probation that included orders to seek medical care if any other child got sick.
After Brandon's death, an irate judge found they had violated parole and sent them to prison.
However, defense lawyer Bobby Hoof, fighting the murder charge Wednesday, said Brandon's autopsy states that he had symptoms for just three days.
"It's not unreasonable for parents to wait three days to seek medical care," Hoof argued.
Prosecutors have described the boys' symptoms as "eerily similar," and said they included labored breathing and a refusal to eat. Catherine Schaible's lawyer, though, said her client tried to feed Brandon during his illness, and applied baby powder to keep him comfortable. And the evidence shows he had food in his system, she said.
"This was a mother who certainly, until the very end, was giving this child a lot of love. To take from that that she acted with malice was more than just a stretch," public defender Mythri Jayaraman said after the hearing.
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.
Their other children, the oldest nearly 18, are now in foster care.
The Schaibles return to court July 3 to be formally arraigned on murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and conspiracy charges.