A faith-healing couple serving probation for the death of their 2-year-old son has lost custody of their seven other children and could face serious charges after a second child died.
Herbert and Catherine Schaible, fundamentalist Christians who believe in the power of prayer ahead of modern medicine, had their 8-month-old son die last week, according to Philadelphia Police spokeswoman Jillian Russell.
The couple have been serving a 10 year probation sentence in the 2009 death of 2-year-old Kent Schaible.
At a hearing Monday, Philadelphia Judge Benjamin Lerner said the Schaibles violated the most important condition of their probation: to seek medical care for their remaining children. Lerner noted the Schaibles told investigators that they prayed to God to make the boy, named Brandon, well instead of seeking medical attention.
"You did that once, and the consequences were tragic," Lerner said, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
Authorities have yet to file criminal charges in the death of the child last week, after he suffered with diarrhea and breathing problems for at least a week. But charges could be filed once authorities pinpoint how the boy died. An official cause of death is pending an autopsy, according to police.
Catherine Schaible's attorney, Mythri Jayaraman, cautioned against a rush to judgment, and said the couple are good parents deeply distraught over the loss of another child.
"There are way more questions than answers at this point. We haven't seen the autopsy report. We don't know the cause of death of this child," Jayaraman told The Associated Press. "What we do know is Mr. and Mrs. Schaible are distraught, they are grieving, they are tremendously sad about the loss of their most recent baby."
Prosecutors on Monday sought to have the couple jailed, but Lerner permitted them to remain free because their seven other children had been placed in foster care.
"He feels they are a danger to their children -- not to the community, but to their own children," Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, who prosecuted the couple in 2010, said Tuesday.
In 2010, a jury convicted the Schaibles of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment in Kent's death from pneumonia. The Schaibles were sentenced to probation over prison time.
As part of their sentence, the Schaibles were required to arrange medical examinations for each of their children, to immediately consult with a doctor when a child became sick and to follow the doctor’s treatment recommendations.
During their trial, the Schaibles' lawyers said the parents were targeted because their fundamentalist Christian beliefs espouse faith healing.
Pennsylvania law says parents have a legal duty to protect their children's health and safety, although the law does not specify if or when medical care must be sought.
Prosecutors said the Kent could have been saved with basic medical care -- probably even over-the-counter medication -- but the couple relied on prayer instead. Defense attorneys argued that their clients did not know how sick the child was, and their beliefs played no role in their decision.
When asked for comment outside his Rhawnhurst home Friday, Herbert Schaible, 44, told NBC10’s Chris Cato “we don’t want to talk.”
Schaible and his 43-year-old wife grew up in the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia and have served as teachers there. The church's website has a sermon titled "Healing -- From God or Medicine?" that quotes Bible verses purportedly forbidding Christians from visiting doctors or taking medicine.
"It is a definite sin to trust in medical help and pills; and it is real faith to trust on the Name of Jesus for healing," says the message, from last May.
A phone message left by the AP with the church on Tuesday was not immediately returned.
The church's pastor said in 2010 that the couple had never received medical care themselves beyond the help of a lay midwife who attends home births.
The Schaibles did take their children for medical checkups as required by their probation, according to Jayaraman, the defense attorney. Jayaraman said that Brandon was checked by a doctor when he was 10 days old, but she did not know whether the child had seen a doctor since.
"Nobody argues that these aren't very loving, nurturing parents," she said Tuesday. "Whether their religion had anything to do with the death of their baby, we don't know."