Doctor accused of 'waterboarding' daughter, 11

3:45 PM, Aug 9, 2012   |    comments
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The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

WILMINGTON, Del. -- A Delaware pediatrician and his wife are facing felony charges after their 11-year-old daughter told police her father had repeatedly subjected her to "waterboarding" while her mother stood by.

Dr. Melvin L. Morse, 58, and his 40-year-old wife Pauline, of Georgetown, Del., were each charged with four felony counts of first-degree reckless endangering, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and felony conspiracy, said state police spokesman Master Cpl. Gary Fournier.

Their children, girls ages 5 and 11, are in the care of the state Division of Family Services, state police said.

The investigation started July 12 when state troopers received a 911 call from a neighbor about a domestic dispute at the couple's home. The Morses' daughter went to the neighbor after Melvin Morse reportedly grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her across a gravel driveway, Fournier said.

According to court documents, the 11-year-old told detectives and social workers that between May 2009 and May 2011 her father had disciplined her by what he called "waterboarding" -- holding the daughter's face under running water, causing the water to fill her nostrils and over her face.

She told police it had happened at least four times -- using the kitchen sink, bathroom sink and bathtub faucet, according to court records.

Melvin Morse, the co-author of a book about the near-death experiences of children and was employed at a private pediatric practice in Milton, Del., was charged last month with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and third-degree assault.

The daughter told police she "could never understand what she did to be punished" and felt scared, court documents reported. Once, she said, her father told her he "was going to wrap her in a blanket and do it so that she could not move." In another instance, she said Melvin Morse told her that "she could go five minutes without brain damage."

Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, said the process described in the court documents was the same technique decried as torture when CIA operatives and proxies used it during the global war on terrorism.

"That's essentially what it is," Korb said. "There, of course, you want people then to confess because you pull them up then you put them back down if they don't do that."

Korb said the practice can kill a person if too much water gets in his or her lungs.

Korb said the action is inappropriate to use on a child, adding "for an 11-year-old that would terrify them because you can't breathe, you don't understand what's going on, you don't know what comes next," Korb said. "Psychologically, it could have lasting damage on this poor kid."

The girl's younger sister was also interviewed and told social workers she saw this happen to her sister, but that "it has never been done to her because she is too young for it."

On Wednesday, the state Attorney General's Office filed a motion for the emergency suspension of Morse's medical license.

According to the Division of Family Services, child abuse is defined as unjustified force, including actions that interfere with breathing, or "any other act that is likely to cause or does cause physical injury, disfigurement, mental distress, unnecessary degradation or substantial risk of serious physical injury or death."

Melvin Morse remains in jail after failing to post a $14,500 secured bail. He was ordered to have no contact with either his wife or children.

Pauline Morse was released on a $14,500 unsecured bail and ordered to have no contact with either her husband or children. She declined to comment when she answered the door Wednesday at the family's home.

Melvin Morse had been working one day a week for the past two and one-half years at the pediatrics practice of Dr. Lowell Scott in Milton, said Jeff Austin, a Wilmington attorney representing Scott. However, he said Morse had not been employed at the practice since May, when he asked to take the summer off to spend more time with his mother.

"Dr. Scott has no first-hand knowledge of the allegation against Dr. Morse," Austin said, declining to comment further.

Melvin Morse is the author of "Closer to the Light" and "Transformed by the Light" that explore near-death experiences of children. He also authored "Parting Visions" that documents spiritual visions associated with death and dying.

According to a biography posted online, he has appeared in a number of television and radio shows, including "20/20" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to talk about his research.

By TERRI SANGINITI,
ESTEBAN PARRA and JAMES FISHER
The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

Gannett

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