PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A fundamentalist Christian couple who believe in faith-healing over medicine pleaded no contest to third-degree murder in the death of their infant son, nearly four years after they were put on probation for the similar death of another child.
The 10-year probation term in the 2009 case required Herbert and Catherine Schaible to seek immediate medical help if another of their children became sick or injured. But Philadelphia prosecutors said the couple instead prayed over their 8-month-old son, Brandon, before he died of pneumonia in April.
Assistant District Attorney Joanna Pescatore said Thursday's pleas were not entered under any agreement, and she can argue for any sentence up to the 20- to 40-year maximum prison term when the Schaibles return for sentencing in February.
"It's no holds barred," Pescatore said.
The Schaibles were on probation because they had previously been convicted by a jury of involuntary manslaughter in the January 2009 pneumonia death of their 2-year-old son, Kent.
Herbert Schaible, 45, remained jailed Thursday, unable to post $250,000. His 44-year-old wife has been free since members of their church raised 10 percent of the same bail amount to secure her release. She's confined to her parents' home, except for court hearings, lawyer appointments and supervised visits with the couple's remaining children, who have been in foster care since their brother died.
The no-contest plea has the same legal effect as a guilty plea, but it means the couple didn't admit wrongdoing and chose not to contest the evidence against them.
Catherine Schaible's attorney, Mythri Jayaraman, said she's hopeful the plea will let her develop a fuller explanation of the Schaibles' beliefs at sentencing.
Herbert Schaible's attorney, Bobby Hoof, said his client didn't want to go to trial.
Hoof had previously argued there was no malice — a necessary ingredient in third-degree murder — noting the infant died just three days after developing cold and flu symptoms. A judge rejected that argument and refused to dismiss the murder charge.
The Schaibles are third-generation members and former teachers at the First Century Gospel Church, a small, insular congregation in northeast Philadelphia.