Melvin Morse, a well-known pediatrician who has been a guest on Larry King Live and Oprah to discuss his research in children and near-death experiences, was convicted Thursday of waterboarding his stepdaughter by holding her head under the faucet. Morse, according to his daughter, told her she could survive without air “five minutes without brain damage.”
According to the prosecution, Morse was ‘lord and master’ of his domain, and abused the girl for years as the mother allowed it to happen.
In addition to the waterboarding, she was made to stand with arms outstretched for hours on end, confined to her room and made to use her toy box or closet as a toilet, deprived of food, hit with a broom, suffocated with Morse’s hands, held face-up under running water until she was unable to breathe, and force-fed until she vomited.
The allegations surfaced after the girl, now twelve, ran away after Morse dragged her by her ankle across a gravel driveway and into the home for a spanking and a promise of worse the next day. She fled to a classmate’s home, whose mother called the police. When police arrived at the home, the Morses were unaware that she had left.
Pauline Morse, who plead guilty to child endangerment and agreed to testify against her husband as part of the deal, says that she chose to ignore the abuse because she was afraid of “undermining” her husband. Both she and her daughter testified that waterboarding was routinely used as a threat and a punishment.
The defense argued that waterboarding was simply a ‘joking’ term used to describe hair washing that the girl didn’t like. Morse denies police claims that, given his research on children and near death experiences, he may have been experimenting on the girl.
Morse says that the girl is prone to exaggeration. The former pediatrician says that the girl is lying, and has suffered behavioral and emotional problems since she was molested at age five by her sister. The defense was able to show some inconsistencies in her statements,particularly involving a second claim of abuse against her step-sister that the girl says was to keep her from coming back home for further abuse–Morse’s suggestion, she says.
Despite that the defense was able to show that a kid sometimes tells a lie, the jury found testimony to be believable enough for a conviction.
Morse is due to be sentenced on April 11. Both of the couple’s children remain in foster care, with Pauline allowed supervised visits. She hopes her cooperation will allow her to have a chance to be reunited with her daughters.