Pa. couple on trial in prayer death of ill son, 2

PHILADELPHIA ? A couple who prayed for their sick toddler rather than take him to a doctor before his pneumonia death went on trial on manslaughter charges Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Lawyers for Herbert Schaible, 42, and his wife Catherine, 41, told jurors the couple are being prosecuted because they are Christian fundamentalists who believe in faith healing. The lawyers said prosecutors cannot prove the parents knew their 2-year-old son was near death when he got sick in January 2009.


Kent Schaible died 10 days later of bacterial pneumonia. According to prosecutors, a doctor's visit could have saved him.


"A 2-year-old doesn't have the wherewithal to say, 'Mommy, Daddy, I'm sick. I need to go to a doctor,'" Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said in opening statements. "A simple visit to the doctor, a prescription and that little boy could have been with us today."


About a dozen U.S. children die in such cases each year, often from diabetes, pneumonia and other treatable illnesses, according to Shawn Francis Peters, a University of Wisconsin lecturer who wrote "When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children and the Law."
The parents often claim they failed to recognize the severity of the illness, he said.
The Schaibles have six other children and no prior contact with police or social workers.
The couple, who quit school after ninth grade, worked as teachers at their church, First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia.


"This case is not about religion. They didn't know that the child was seriously ill," said defense lawyer Bobby Hoof, who represents the father.


"Even the medical examiner testified that it's a rapidly moving organism," he said after court Tuesday. "It could become manifest in one day and fatal the next."


Kent's symptoms had included coughing, congestion, crankiness and a loss of appetite, and he was warm to the touch, the parents told police in statements after his death.
They thought he was improving as the days wore on, but when his condition worsened, they called their pastor and then a funeral home, authorities said.


Police asked why they didn't call a doctor. Both said they believed in God for healing, Pescatore has said.


The city judge who upheld involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and conspiracy charges in October 2009 called the parents loving but misguided. They remain free on $150,000 bail.


High-profile coroner Cyril Wecht is scheduled the testify for the defense Thursday. Hoof declined to say whether his client would testify, and Catherine Schaible's public defender did not immediately return a call.


Jurors could get the case by Friday.