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Delaware doc accused of waterboarding stepdaughter goes on trial

Dr. Melvin Morse, 58, and his wife Pauline, 40, are seen in this combination of booking photos released by the Delaware State Police August
Dr. Melvin Morse, 58, and his wife Pauline, 40, are seen in this combination of booking photos released by the Delaware State Police August

By Lacey Johnson

GEORGETOWN, Delaware (Reuters) - A Delaware pediatrician force-fed his 11-year-old stepdaughter, forbade her from using the bathroom and used "waterboarding" in attempts to discipline the child, a prosecutor said during opening statements on Tuesday.

Dr. Melvin Morse's defense lawyer told jurors in the child endangerment trial that the girl has a long history of lying to adults, including to counselors who have documented the dishonesty.

Morse, 60, faces charges of endangering the welfare of a child, reckless endangerment and conspiracy. He was arrested in 2012 after the girl, then 11, told authorities she had been waterboarded on four occasions.

The prosecutor, Melanie Withers, said he held the girl face-up under a running kitchen faucet until she was unable to breathe. Morse "called it waterboarding," Withers said.

Defense lawyer Joe Hurley said his client was joking when he used the term "waterboarding" and that the incidents had been attempts to wash the girl's hair - an activity she hated.

Waterboarding is a controversial technique typically associated with the interrogation of terrorism suspects and involves forcibly holding a cloth over a person's face and flooding it with water to simulate drowning.

Morse shook his head as Withers told the jury at Sussex County Superior Court about his "bizarre, hostile" treatment of the girl, who is the daughter of Morse's now-estranged wife.

"The defendant controlled every single aspect of that child's life, including whether she could draw breath," Withers said.

Withers said the abuse included force-feeding her until she vomited, forbidding her from using the bathroom until she soiled herself, waking her up for school by throwing cold water on her face and dragging her down steps.

Police were summoned to the family home in Georgetown, Delaware, after the girl went to a neighbor. A police statement identifying her as Morse's daughter said that she had refused to get out of the family car and Morse dragged her out by the ankles over a gravel driveway.

Morse's estranged wife, Pauline Morse, who witnessed the incidents but did not intervene, also was arrested. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in May and has agreed to testify against Morse.

Morse, who heads the Institute for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, has appeared on "Oprah," "Good Morning America" and "Larry King Live" on CNN. He is the author of a best-selling book on near-death experiences, "Closer to the Light."

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Amanda Kwan)

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