PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A fundamentalist Christian couple who relied on prayer, not medicine, to cure their dying toddler son was convicted Friday of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible of Philadelphia face more than a decade in prison for the January 2009 pneumonia death of 2-year-old Kent.
“We were careful to make sure we didn’t have their religion on trial but were holding them responsible for their conduct,” jury foreman Vince Bertolini, 49, told The Associated Press. “At the least, they were guilty of gross negligence, and (therefore) of involuntary manslaughter.”
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The Schaibles, who have six other children, declined to comment as they left the courthouse to await sentencing Feb. 2.
Experts say about a dozen U.S. children die in faith-healing cases each year. An Oregon couple were sentenced this year to 16 months in prison for negligent homicide in the death of their teenage son, who had an undiagnosed urinary blockage.
Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore will ask the judge at sentencing to put the couple’s other children under a doctor’s care. She was not yet sure if she would seek prison terms for the two felonies.
Couple who believed in faith healing sentenced in son’s death
Continuing the silence they have kept since their arrests in April 2009, Herbert and Catherine Schaible said nothing after the Common Pleas Court jury of eight men and four women delivered the late-afternoon verdict. The couple also were pronounced guilty of endangering the welfare of a child.
Whatever emotions the Schaibles felt – the verdict could put them behind bars and mandate regular doctor visits for their seven surviving children – their faces revealed nothing.
Their pastor, Nelson A. Clark of the First Century Gospel Church of Juniata Park, which teaches healing through prayer and eschews medical care as evidence of a lack of faith in God, seemed crushed by the jury’s conclusion.
The Schaibles’ 2-year-old son, Kent, died after fighting what began as a cold and progressed over two weeks to bacterial pneumonia. According to testimony, Herbert Schaible, 42, and Catherine Schaible, 41, prayed for their son and thought he might be getting better.
But on the night of Jan. 24, 2009, the Schaibles discovered that Kent was dead. They called the church’s assistant pastor, Ralph Myers, who came to the house, joined the parents 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 during the trial, which began Tuesday.
Judge Carolyn Engle Temin set sentencing for Feb. 2 but allowed the Schaibles to remain free on $150,000 bail pending that hearing.
Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said the manslaughter count carries a 5- to 10-year prison term and the child-endangerment charge one of 31/2 to 7 years.
First Century Gospel Church preaches a literal reliance on faith and prayer to heal, and cites such scriptural bases as Abraham’s faith in God when he offered to sacrifice his son Isaac. While the church considers members who obtain medical care to have sinned, it does not shun those who see a doctor.
According to testimony, the church permits dental care, such as cleanings and filling cavities, and does not proscribe modern inventions such as personal computers.
The church’s teaching has periodically put it at odds with civil authorities – notably in 1991, when eight children died in a measles epidemic. Their parents were members of either First Century Gospel Church or the nearby Faith Tabernacle of Nicetown, another congregation that espouses faith healing.