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Trial of Delaware doctor accused of abusing stepdaughter goes to jury

By Lacey Johnson

GEORGETOWN, Delaware (Reuters) - A jury heard final arguments on Wednesday in the trial of a well-known Delaware pediatrician accused of waterboarding his 11-year-old stepdaughter.

Prosecutors sought to portray Dr. Melvin Morse, a best-selling author on near-death experiences, as a controlling manipulator. Morse's lawyer told jurors, who are scheduled to begin deliberations on Thursday, that his stepdaughter and wife were liars.

Morse, 60, is on trial on child endangerment charges dating back to July 2012. His stepdaughter, 11 at the time, told authorities that Morse had physically abused her, including waterboarding her on four occasions.

"The evidence in this case ... is that the defendant is a highly intelligent, manipulative control freak," prosecuting attorney Melanie Withers told the jury in her closing statements.

Morse had denied he had waterboarded the girl, now 12, saying he had only been washing her hair. Withers called his story "illogical."

She also said that Pauline Morse, the girl's mother and one of the prosecution's prime witnesses, "had no business being a mother."

Defense attorney Kevin Tray played a video of the girl recounting to a child advocacy worker how she was molested for a second time by her teenaged half-sister. Last week, the girl admitted under cross-examination that the story had been a lie.

"This is a total fabrication," Tray said. "That is the state's witness against Melvin Morse."

The girl testified she lied about the molestation to prevent her half-sister, who had been sent to a correctional facility for molesting her in 2007, from moving back in with the family.

"Now she wants Melvin out of the house ... and she got exactly what she wanted last time," Tray said.

Defense attorneys argued that the girl's waterboarding story had changed over time. She also had reported no abuse despite being repeatedly asked about it by investigators and therapists.

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.

Defense attorney Joe Hurley called Pauline Morse "a big black hole of credibility." She testified that she had lied to authorities that the girl's biological father was abusing her in order to obtain a restraining order against him.

Morse, who has appeared on "Good Morning America" and "Oprah," faces charges that include third-degree assault, endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangerment in the first degree.

(Reporting by Lacey Johnson; Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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