Therapists Guilty in `Rebirthing' Case
By Judith Kohler, Associated Press Writer, The Associated Press, April 21, 2001
GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) - Two therapists face nearly 50 years in prison after being convicted of reckless child abuse in a young girl's death during a rebirthing therapy session.
On Friday, jurors issued guilty verdicts against Julie Ponder, 40, and Connell Watkins, 54, in the death of 10-year-old Candace Newmaker. They each face up to 48 years in prison on the abuse charge when they are sentenced June 18.
The prosecution's most powerful evidence in the trial was a videotape of the 70-minute session, which showed Candace begging for her life while wrapped in a sheet meant to imitate a womb. In the therapy, four adults leaned on Candace with pillows. The hope was that she would emerge ``reborn'' to bond with her adoptive mother.
Candace died on April 19, 2000, one day after undergoing the therapy.
The coroner ruled Candace died of asphyxiation. The defense argued that other factors - such as the powerful medications she was taking - may have caused her death.
On Tuesday, Gov. Bill Owens signed a law outlawing rebirthing therapy.
Craig Truman, Watkins' attorney, said the two therapists believed Candace could breathe during the rebirthing session. Both therapists said they thought Candace's screaming protests were manipulative behavior.
``It wasn't possible to believe every word Candace Newmaker says,'' said Ponder's lawyer, Joan Heller. ``That's a part of her problem.''
The girl had been diagnosed with attachment disorder, which makes children resist forming loving relationships and frequently makes them violent and unmanageable.
Juror Jim Ball said seeing Candace surrounded by both the blanket and the pillows convinced jurors she could not breathe. Several jurors and others in the courtroom cried and covered their mouths in shock when the videotape was shown.
Mary Davis, Candace's biological grandmother, cried and hugged those around her in the courtroom after hearing the verdict.
Her husband said Candace had been unfairly portrayed by the defense as if she was the most cruel person in the world.
``I think the people of Colorado, the prosecutors and, most of all, the jury have made their statement about what cruelty is and who committed it,'' David Davis said.