Pediatrician gets prison for 'waterboarding' stepdaughter

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) - A prominent Delaware pediatrician and best-selling author who punished his 11-year-old stepdaughter using a form of waterboarding was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday. A jury found Dr. Melvin Morse, who has written about near-death experiences and appeared on "Oprah" and "Good Morning America," guilty of child endangerment charges dating back to July 2012. Prosecutors in Sussex County Superior Court accused Morse of preventing the girl from bathing, suffocating her with water and denying her access to a bathroom. "Never did I know I would cause this amount of pain to the people that I love," said Morse, 60, who spoke at his sentencing in the packed courtroom. He then turned to the girl, who was sitting next to her foster parents, and asked for forgiveness. "None of this is your fault ... and I hope that someday you can forgive me. I have caused unmeasurable suffering," said Morse. "I am so sorry." During a two-week trial that ended in February, the girl told the jury that Morse had physically abused her, including waterboarding and dragging her across a gravel driveway. Morse's lawyers argued that the girl and her mother, who testified for the prosecution, were lying. Morse was convicted on six of eight counts, including third-degree assault, endangering the welfare of a child and first-degree reckless endangerment, a felony. Prosecutor Melanie Withers, who during the trial called Morse a "highly intelligent, manipulative control freak," said she was "very pleased" with the sentence. "This totally vindicates her," Withers said of the girl, now 12, "and that is what this has all been about." At the sentencing, defense attorney Joe Hurley said Morse had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer and requested that his sentence be postponed so he could get treatment. Judge Richard Stokes denied the motion, saying Morse could get medical treatment in prison. "We got whipped," said Hurley, adding that he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court on Monday. In his testimony, Morse denied waterboarding the girl, the daughter of his now-estranged wife, Pauline Morse, and said he had only been trying to wash her hair. The girl testified that she had feared for her life during the process. She was put into foster care along with her younger sister in July 2012 when the abuse allegations first were made. Typically associated with the interrogation of terrorism suspects, waterboarding in general involves holding a cloth over a person's face and flooding it with water to simulate drowning. The girl's mother pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in May. She did not appear at the sentencing on Friday. (Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Gunna Dickson)