CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

National News

May 24, 2013

No bail for Pa. parents in faith-healing death

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 to what a prosecutor called "eerily similar" circumstances. And instead of another involuntary manslaughter charge, they're 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 argued that they are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.

"He is incarcerated because of his faith," said lawyer Bobby Hoof, who described client Herbert Schaible's mindset as resolute.

"He's strong willed," Hoof said. "(Yet) he's mourning this son. He's hurting as any dad would."

The only people theoretically at risk are the couple's seven surviving children, who are now in foster care, the lawyers said.

A judge acknowledged that 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.

In Oregon, four couples from a faith-healing church have been prosecuted, the most recent in 2011 when a couple was sentenced to more than six years in prison for manslaughter in the death of their newborn son.

The state legislature that year removed faith healing as a defense to murder charges. Members of the Followers of Christ have consistently refused to speak with journalists.

Defense lawyer Mark Cogan declined to comment Friday on whether the legal actions have changed the practice of any church members. Some testified at the 2011 trial that they do get medical care.

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.

"It's very clear that the law says that religious freedom is trumped by the safety of a child," Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Engel Temin explained.

But a transcript of a later probation hearing that year shows probation officers were confused by their mandate to oversee the required medical care and felt powerless to carry it out. The family was not being monitored by child-welfare workers, who are more accustomed to dealing with medical compliance.

"I think that we all on the jury thought that it would not happen again, that whatever social and legal institutions needed to be involved in their situation would just take over ... and that the mandated visits would be robust enough that they would not be able to do this again," Vincent Bertolini, 51, a former college professor who served as jury foreman at the Schaibles' first trial, said Friday. That jury convicted the couple of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.

Like other cases Peters has studied, 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. He did not return phone messages this month, but he told The Associated Press in 2011 that his church is not a cult, and he faulted officials for trying to force his members into "the flawed medical system," which he blamed for 100,000 deaths a year.

"These are people who have been brought up in these communities; their beliefs are reinforced every day," Peters said. "They're not trained intellectually to question these doctrines, where the rest of us might engage in critical inquiry, weighing the benefits of medicine versus the benefits of prayer."

A handful of families, including one in western Pennsylvania, have lost two children after attempts at faith healing, according to Peters, who wrote "When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children and the Law."

Peters isn't sure that courts have the means to prevent the problem, since such people don't fear legal punishment, only Judgment Day. Some believe death "is a good outcome," given their belief in the afterlife, he said.

"They don't want to harm their children. They're just in this particularly narrow — and very, very dangerous — way misguided about the potential of medical science," he said.

He believes that "empathetic" intervention, through dialogue between church and public health educators, could help some "get to a point where they allow their beliefs and practices to evolve."

But there's a risk that could backfire, and drive these communities further underground, he said.

For the Schaibles, a third-degree murder conviction could bring seven to 14 years in prison or more.

Said Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore: "Somebody is dead now as a result of what they did — or didn't do."

Associated Press writer Tim Fought in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • Fort Hood (UPDATED) Officials: 4 dead, including gunman, at Fort Hood

    A gunman opened fire Wednesday at Fort Hood in an attack that left four dead, including the shooter, law enforcement officials said.
    One of the officials, citing official internal U.S. Justice Department updates, said 14 others were hurt. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information by name.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • mfp file Hoffner Fired coach unjustly accused of visiting porn sites

    The president of Minnesota State University-Mankato accused a football coach of looking at Internet porn on a work computer before firing him, an arbitrator has revealed. The official said the claim could not be supported, and the coach shouldn't have been fired.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • High School Stabbings 4 students seriously hurt in Pa. school stabbings

    A student armed with a knife went on a stabbing and slashing spree at a high school near Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning, leaving as many as 20 people injured, including four students who suffered serious wounds, authorities said.

    April 9, 2014 2 Photos

  • Obit Ultimate Warrior Former pro wrestler Ultimate Warrior dies at 54

    James Hellwig, better known as former pro wrestler The Ultimate Warrior, has died, the WWE said. He was 54.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_amazonfiretv.jpg Amazon introduces Fire TV to challenge Apple in living rooms

    Amazon.com Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is stepping up efforts to win over customers in their living rooms with a $99 TV box for watching digitally delivered shows and movies, challenging Apple's TV device.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Washington Mudslide Death toll in Washington mudslide rises to 30

    As medical examiners painstakingly piece together the identities and lives of the 30 people known killed when a mudslide wiped out a small Washington community, one mystery troubles them.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Fort Hood Fort Hood gunman sought mental health treatment

    An Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness was the gunman who opened fire at Fort Hood, killing three people and wounding 16 others before committing suicide, in an attack on the same Texas military base where more than a dozen people were slain in 2009, authorities said.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court Campaign Big donors may give even more under court’s ruling

    The Supreme Court ruling Wednesday erasing a long-standing limit on campaign donations will allow a small number of very wealthy donors to give even more than is currently the case, according to students of the complex campaign finance system, and could strengthen the establishment in both parties.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Former McDonald's store managers say they withheld employees' wages

    Two former McDonald's store managers, assisting with a campaign to raise pay for fast-food workers, said they helped withhold employees' wages at the restaurant chain after facing pressure to keep labor costs down.

    April 2, 2014