Delaware doctor, author made stepdaughter fear for life

Lacey Johnson
Dr. Melvin Morse, 58, and his wife Pauline, 40, are seen in this combination of booking photos released by the Delaware State Police August 9, 2012. REUTERS/Delaware State Police/Handout

By Lacey Johnson

GEORGETOWN, Delaware (Reuters) - The 12-year-old stepdaughter of a prominent Delaware pediatrician and best-selling author charged with waterboarding her as a form of punishment testified on Monday that the incidents made her fear for her life.

The girl, who was 11 when the accusations first surfaced, took the witness stand for the first time in the trial of Dr. Melvin Morse, a best-selling author on near-death experiences who is charged with endangering the welfare of a child, reckless endangerment and conspiracy.

Morse, 60, who heads the Institute for the Scientific Study of Consciousness and has appeared on "Oprah" and "Good Morning America," was arrested in 2012 after his stepdaughter told authorities she had been waterboarded on at least four occasions.

During four hours of testimony at Sussex County Superior Court, the girl, who has not been publicly identified because she is a minor, said Morse would hold her head in the sink and "run water up my nose so I couldn't breathe."

"I would try to scream, but I couldn't," she said. "I was scared, and I felt like I was going to die."

She said he waterboarded her once for accidentally spilling milk and another time for getting sick and vomiting.

The girl was also shown a series a videos and photographs that investigators recovered from Morse's computer. Several photos showed her standing in uncomfortable positions wearing a hand-written sign that said "shame."

The girl also testified that Morse would sometimes close her in her room and not allow her to use a bathroom. On these occasions, she sometimes relieved herself in her toy box.

Asked by prosecutor Melanie Withers to describe the worst punishments, the girl replied: "waterboarding."

Typically associated with the interrogation of terrorism suspects, waterboarding involves forcibly holding a cloth over a person's face and flooding it with water to simulate drowning.

Morse's defense lawyer, Joe Hurley, has said the girl has a long history of lying to adults, including counselors.

While his client may have used the term "waterboarding," it was in jest, Hurley said. The lawyer also said the incidents had been attempts to wash the girl's hair, an activity she hated.

Morse's defense team will question the girl on Tuesday.

Pauline Morse, the girl's mother and Morse's estranged wife, witnessed the incidents but did not intervene. In May, she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and agreed to testify against Morse.

(Editing by Edith Honan and Dan Grebler)