EVEN AFTER Kent Schaible died, his parents and a pastor from their faith-healing Philadelphia church continued to pray over his body, hoping that God would restore his life, the pastor testified yesterday during the first day of the parents' involuntary manslaughter trial.
"I put my hand on his shoulder and prayed for God to restore the breath of life," said Ralph Myers, an assistant pastor at First Century Gospel Church, in Juniata Park.
"God is the giver of life and the giver of the breath of life."
Then reality set in, said Myers, who told the court he had known Herbert, 42, and Catherine, 41, Schaible since they were born.
And a funeral director was called to the family's Northeast home to pick up the 2-year-old's remains.
The Schaibles are accused of praying between seven to 10 days for Kent's healing instead of getting him medical care, resulting in his dying of bacterial pneumonia on Jan. 24, 2009.
They are charged with involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy and endangering the welfare of a child.
Despite Myers' close relationship with the couple, he was called as a prosecution witness.
During opening arguments, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore told the jury of eight men and four women that the Schaibles put their belief in faith-healing before their responsibility to safeguard the health of their boy.
"A 2-year-old does not have the wherewithal to say, 'Mommy, Daddy, I'm sick. I need to go to the doctor,'" said Pescatore.
As Kent displayed symptoms that included a sore throat, coughing, congestion, dehydration and diarrhea, she said, his parents "did nothing."
The couple's attorneys told the jury that the case had nothing to do with religion, but rather was about what the parents knew — or should have known — about what was ailing Kent.
Herbert's attorney, Bobby Hoof, and Catherine's attorney, Mythri Jayarman, both said their clients had given Kent fluids and food thinking that he was suffering from a cold or the flu.
The attorneys said it was not reasonable for the Schaibles — who both have ninth-grade educations — to have known that Kent had bacterial pneumonia, noting that the assistant medical examiner who performed the autopsy did not know that until he opened the child's chest.
"We are not here to discuss religion. Again, we are here to discuss why this child passed away," Hoof said.
Jayarman said the Schaibles are on trial because they are members of a minority religion.
Still, she stressed that the couple's belief in faith-healing played no part in how they cared for Kent.
"The reason they didn't take Kent Schaible to the doctor is because he didn't seem that sick," said Jayarman, who suggested that pneumonia symptoms are similar to those caused by a cold or the flu.
An early blow to the defense strategy came from Assistant Medical Examiner Edwin Lieberman, who did Kent's autopsy and ruled the manner of his death to be a homicide.
Lieberman told the jury that the pneumonia that killed Kent would have been preventable if he had been vaccinated and it would have been treatable if he had received antibiotics.
"Had he been taken to a doctor, even up to the last day of his life, we might not be here," Lieberman said.
The defense attorneys said they plan to call celebrated forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht, who is expected to testify that antibiotics would not have saved Kent's life. *