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Perhaps some memes are being, finally, fought through immunities. It
takes cases like this, though.
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Date: 04/22/01 14:10
Linda and I are very pleased to report the conviction Friday night of two
very vicious mental-health quacks in Colorado.
Connell Watkins, 54, a pioneer in the treatment of "attachment disorder"
in children, and her associate, Julie Ponder, 40, were found guilty of
reckless child-abuse resulting in death. They will be sentenced on June
18th, and each will receive from 16-48 years in Colorado state prison. In
addition, Watkins was convicted on a second felony, criminal
impersonation, which carries an additional 12 to 18 months of prison
time, and on two misdemeanors--obtaining a signature by deception and
unlawful practice of psychotherapy.
During six hours of deliberation, the jury apparently was never in doubt
as to the guilt of the defendants on the main charge. On April 18, 2001,
the two "psychotherapists," together with two "assistants," killed
10-year-old Candace Newmaker by wrapping her 70-pound body in a flannel
sheet, piling on eight pillows and 673 pounds of adults, and leaving her
there until she died from lack of oxygen. Her adoptive mother, a
pediatric nurse practitioner(!), watched while they did it. A video
camera recorded the whole thing.
The two assistants and the mother also face charges and will be tried
The case has been something of an international sensation because of the
videotape of the child's death. It showed the four tormenting the girl
during a putative "rebirthing" session. After instructing her to try to
come out of her flannel "womb," they then did everything they could to
frustrate her efforts to comply, blocking her movements, retying the ends
of the sheet, shifting their weight, and never heeding her cries for
help. As Candace literally struggled and screamed for her life, they
answered with taunts and chilling encouragements to "go ahead and die."
While the jury and the other 65 people in the small courtroom watched and
listened to the life ebbing away from a lovely, vibrant, and courageous
little girl, all save a few were visibly moved. It was literally enough
to make a grown man cry. Tears well up still when memories of what I saw
on that tape return unbidden and haunt a quiet moment. I will never be
the same as I was before.
That was only Day 4 of the 14-day trial. (Linda and I--and Emily,
too--sat there every day and took copious notes through it all.) There
was much more to come, and it was, in many ways, even worse. There were
10 more hours of videotapes of this child enduring hitherto unimaginably
cruel, degrading, and frankly disgusting practices in what were called
"holding" sessions. In just one two-hour session, for example, Candace
had her face grabbed, with enforced eye contact, 90 times, had her head
violently shaken 309 times, was screamed at just inches away from her
face 68 times. The "therapy" sessions were all like that, with just
variations on the theme. In another, for example, she had her mother lay
on her for an hour and 42 minutes, and had her face licked some 21 times;
in another, she had her treasured long hair hacked off into a short,
ragged mop; in still others, she was required to kick her legs in
scissors fashion unto the point of exhaustion. There were numerous
periods where this naturally energetic 10-year-old was required to sit
absolutely motionless for 10, 20, and 30 minutes at a time. Indeed, the
last image of Candace we were shown in the courtroom was of her sitting
cross-legged, staring blankly at the camera, her face, though still
lovely, showing nothing of the smiling, apparently confident girl seen in
her fourth-grade class photo. At the last, hers was the face of a torture
victim. That image, too, haunts me daily.
Testimony given by the defense, including that of the defendants
themselves, admits that such holding "therapy" has been going on for a
decade or more, has gone on despite Candace's fate, and will undoubtedly
continue by others. It has taken an actual death for these culprits to be
subject to the criminal penalties they now face, but they well deserve
the maximum 48 years' prison time alone for the abuse and indignity they
visited on hundreds of children before Candace.
Reluctantly looking past Candace's specific fate, the testimony in this
case has revealed much about the particular quackery that tortured
Candace. In the beginning, there is the phony diagnosis of "attachment
disorder" and the unrealistic expectations of hopeful adoptive parents.
Then there are the hopelessly unscientific, intellectually vacuous,
ethically bankrupt, and pervertedly sadistic beliefs and practices
collectively called "Attachment Therapies." Next there is the motley
collection of egomaniacs, sociopaths, charlatans, wannabees, failures,
and hangers-on that comprise the community of "Attachment Therapists".
And in the end, there is the network of public and private social
agencies, licensed and unlicensed social workers, self-promotional
workshops and conferences, pseudo-professional cross-referrals, private
clinics and residential facilities that sucks desperate (or unrealistic)
parents and their children into its maw using fear, hype and hope. The
evidence in this case shows there was a pipeline feeding North Carolina
children to Evergreen, Colorado, for victimization. Our independent
investigation suggests that there are others with different intakes and
The prosecutors in this case, Laura Dunbar and Steve Jensen, did a superb
job, both in and out of the courtroom. I cannot imagine how Candace could
have had better advocates. I want to note especially how they made the
case into an exemplar for handling pseudoscientific offerings of
evidence. Whenever the defense tried to introduce testimony about the
"efficacy" of the methods used on Candace, they were blocked because
there was no scientific validation. When the defense finally got someone
accepted as an "expert" on psychology, the prosecution made mincemeat of
his testimony regarding validation and scientific support for the
practices at issue. And when the defendants testified that they used
therapies without scientific basis for doing so, the prosecution went
right for the jugular and used their own codes of ethics which require
scientific validation of their practices. Whenever a witness would admit
a procedure was unvalidated, then the prosecution would accurately label
it experimental, and question the ethics of conducting experiments on
In particular, the following exchange was common in the courtroom:
Defendant: I use this because it works.
Prosecutor: How do you know it works?
Defendant: Because I've seen it work.
Typical quacks. They don't have to wait for science, or go through all
that hard work of collecting valid evidence for their practices. They've
had the epiphany, they've seen the results. That's good enough for them.
Some commentators have noted the arrogance of the two defendants,
particularly in their own testimony. They "knew" what Candace's real
problem was. They just "knew" what she needed to get better. They "knew"
her cries were lies or manipulation. They just "knew" she had enough air
to breathe. Other commentators noted the ignorance of the defendants
repeatedly demonstrated by the evidence. Personally, I think they
revealed themselves as having the hallmark of every quack: the arrogance
The prosecutorial pursuit was a delight to see. During summation, both
prosecutors accurately pointed out that this was a case of "ends
justifying the means," rife with pseudoscience, and prejudicial to the
health and welfare of the children (victims). The defense necessarily had
to let these charges go unanswered.
A couple of related questions rang out loudly, especially in summation:
Has a child no right to self-determination and dignity? Is it ever right
to torture a child? Given the horrors found in the direct evidence about
this crime, it probably wasn't necessary for the prosecution to raise
such questions. Linda and I had their ears in a very minor way and
prodded them to do so, but it was their own humanity, we think, that
tugged them to go the extra way. We are gratified that they raised all
the right questions. We are also gratified that the jury answered those
questions in just the right way.
Yrs, Larry Sarner
"Rebirthing verdict may curb restraint therapy" -- Denver Post 4/22
"Rocky Mt. News story on verdict" -- Rocky Mt. News 4/21
0 ..htm l
We will not go very far if we pretend to teach our kids that we cannot
tell the difference between real and phony science. Yet that was the gist
of all those 'equal time' laws in the 1970s and 1980s: the Arkansas and
Louisana legislatures were actually telling the teachers in their public
schools to pretend not to know the difference between real science -
flaws and all - and outmoded or simply bad science. I cannot imagine
anything more peverse, more deliberately harmful, than teaching kids that
their elders cannot tell the difference between the real and phony. Some
of them, of course, cannot. But all but the relatively few
creation-leaning science teachers throughout the fifty states most
assuredly can, and requiring them in essence to lie to their students
sends about the worst message imaginable to the younger generation. And
kids, of course, can see right through that."
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