Nearly two years since toddler Kent Schaible died of bacterial pneumonia, his parents face trial today on involuntary manslaughter and other charges stemming from their alleged willingness to rely on prayer rather than seek medical attention.
The jury for Herbert and Catherine Schaible’s case was selected quickly yesterday, with a priest among potential jurors dismissed. The trial is expected to last a week, with renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht to testify for the defense.
In his final days, Kent wasn’t taken for medical attention for a sore throat, congestion, sleeplessness and trouble swallowing. Instead, his parents turned to their pastor and prayer. The Schaibles worshipped at First Century Gospel Church in Juniata; a call there wasn’t returned.
Prosecution evidence at the preliminary hearing indicated medical attention could have saved the toddler. Defense attorney Francis Carmen said the Schaibles were being persecuted “for their minority religious beliefs.”
Shawn Peters, who wrote “When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law,” estimates a dozen similar cases are reported annually, but: “My guess is that there are dozens more every year. Very closely knit religious groups like this aren’t welcoming to outsiders, scrutiny,” he said.
A claim that parents didn’t know how sick their child was “is always invoked.” Most are found guilty but get a “muted, half-hearted punishment because they’re sincere, they really do believe what they’re saying.”