It was a step in the right direction, but still too little and way too late.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible, who have now killed two of their children by relying on prayer instead of medical care, finally were sentenced to prison Wednesday in Philadelphia for the death of the second youngster. They got 3 1/2 to 7 years behind bars from Judge Benjamin Lerner. It still seems a pretty small price to pay for taking the life of a child, but at least this judge made an effort.
In 2009, 2-year-old Kent Schaible died of pneumonia because his parents refused to take him to a doctor and instead relied on faith healing.
Said Herbert Schaible at the time, “We tried to fight the devil, but in the end, the devil won.”
No, the pneumonia won. It was unopposed.
The couple’s pastor, Nelson Clark, who leads a reclusive Pentecostal community known as First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia, blamed the Schaibles, not for refusing to take the dying toddler to a doctor, but for a “spiritual lack” in their lives.
The Schaibles were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. But despite the facts of the case, despite the lunacy spouted by Herbert Schaible and Nelson Clark, a judge thought it was appropriate to put the Schaibles on probation and let them keep their other eight children. The prosecutor in the case and even the Schaibles’ public defender – legitimately worried about the fate of those children – pleaded with the judge to have a Department of Human Services caseworker supervise the family. Instead, the judge put the case in the hands of probation officers who were not trained to monitor child welfare.
And guess what? Exactly what the prosecutor and public defender feared would happen, happened.
Last April, another Schaible child, 8-month-old Brandon, died. Again, it was pneumonia. And again, the Schaibles prayed over him and refused to get appropriate medical treatment.
The Schaibles pleaded no contest to charges of third-degree murder in the latest case. They could have – and should have, in our opinion – received sentences of 20 to 40 years in prison. Their surviving children are either in foster care or with relatives.
It was horrible that the first child died in the way he did. It was inexcusable that the Schaibles were allowed to kill a second child.
“It was so foreseeable to me that this was going to happen,” Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said Wednesday. “Everybody in the system failed these children.”
She called Brandon Schaible’s symptoms “eerily similar” to those of his brother Kent’s, including labored breathing and a refusal to eat. One can only imagine the infant’s suffering, his fight to survive, before his struggle ended.
According to an Associated Press report, Judge Lerner made note of the violence committed in the name of religion throughout history and told the Schaibles, “April of 2013 wasn’t Brandon’s time to die. You’ve killed two of your children. ... Not God. Not your church. Not religious devotion. You.”
The field of medicine is quite adept at treating common illnesses and preventing them from turning deadly. Prayer alone? That’s proven to be a bit of a crapshoot. Some patients will be fortunate enough to get better, but some, very clearly, will die.
If Herbert and Catherine Schaible prefer to wither away and perish of a treatable ailment while attempting to conjure divine intervention, that’s certainly their choice, but it’s not a choice they, or anyone else, can make for a child.
For twisted zealots like the Schaibles, the threat of time behind bars can be insufficient to compel rational thought. What the courts must do is make sure that people like them never get the opportunity to take the life of more than one child.