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Purported faith-healing couple charged in death of infant son who fell ill

By Rande Iaboni, CNN
updated 7:56 PM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prosecutors say the man and woman followed faith-healing doctrines
  • An infant son died in April, with authorities saying the parents didn't seek medical help
  • A 2-year-old son died under similar circumstances in 2009
  • The parents were on probation in that earlier death, and were to get help for their sick kids

(CNN) -- Parents already on court notice to provide medical care for their children have been charged with third-degree murder in the death of their infant son, Philadelphia authorities announced Wednesday

Herbert and Catherine Shaible's son, Brandon, died April 18 from dehydration and bacterial pneumonia. But his death was ruled a homicide by the Philadelphia medical examiner's office because the Shaibles -- purportedly followers of a faith-healing doctrine -- did not seek medical help for the sick infant, authorities said.

In addition to third-degree murder, the couple was also charged with involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, and endangering the welfare of a child, Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams announced Wednesday afternoon at a press conference.

In April the couple admitted to police that their son began displaying symptoms of illness several days before his death but instead of contacting a doctor they chose to pray for him, "and ultimately called a funeral director," according to Williams.

The couple already was on probation after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of their 2-year-old son, Kent, who also died after the Shaibles refused to get medical attention as the child suffered bacterial pneumonia.

One condition of their 10-year probation was a requirement that they seek medical attention and follow medical advice if any of their children were to get sick in the future, First Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann said at the press conference.

Joanne Pescatore, who previously prosecuted the Shaibles in 2009 stated that the circumstances of that case were "eerily similar" to this one.

"To say that I was upset would be an understatement," Pescatore said, "I knew at their sentencing that they were not going to follow the judge's instructions."

Pescatore said that she argued for a prison sentence in the earlier case but the judge didn't feel it was appropriate.

According to McCann, the Shaibles were members of the First Century Gospel Church. Calls to the church were not immediately returned.

The church's website quotes one particular biblical passage that states, "By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name, and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see."

The Shaibles have at least two other children who were taken into the custody of Philadelphia's Department of Human Services following the death of Brandon in April. DHS would not comment on the children or the Shaibles' situation.

McCann stated that because the parents refused to follow the judge's prior orders to seek medical treatment for a sick child and given that this was the second death in the family, the district attorney's office felt a murder charge was appropriate.

Attorney Mythri Annapoorna Jayaraman, who confirmed she is representing the Shaibles, had no comment to CNN Wednesday.

The couple has not yet been arraigned and bail had not been set Wednesday, but McCann said prosecutors will be requesting a bail they believe will be high enough to detain both of them.

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