GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) — A judge sentenced a former pediatrician known for research on paranormal science and near-death experiences involving children to three years in prison Friday for waterboarding the daughter of his longtime companion by holding the girl’s head under a faucet.
The judge ordered Melvin Morse, 60, to serve two years on probation after completing the prison term. Morse also received concurrent sentences of probation for other charges of endangering and assault.
Judge Richard Stokes rejected a request for leniency from defense attorney Joe Hurley, who said Morse has prostate cancer and likely will need thyroid surgery.
“His medical needs will be addressed in prison,” said Stokes, who said Morse deserved more than the presumptive 15-month sentence for felony reckless endangering.
Before being sentenced, Morse, 60 turned to the girl, now 12, and apologized.
“I am so sorry. I am so sorry,” he told her as she clutched at the chest of her foster mother. “None of this is your fault … and I hope that one day you can forgive me.”
The girl and her mother testified Morse used waterboarding as a threat or punishment, but defense attorneys suggested “waterboarding” was a term jokingly used by Morse to describe hair washing. Waterboarding as used by trained interrogators on terror suspects simulates drowning. Many critics call it torture.
Morse, whose medical license was suspended after his arrest and has since expired, wrote several books and articles on paranormal science and near-death experiences involving children. He has appeared on shows such as “Larry King Live” and the “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to discuss his research, which also has been featured on an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” and in an article in “Rolling Stone” magazine. Morse denied police claims he may have been experimenting on the girl.
“The idea that the defendant was experimenting on (the girl) is speculative, and I see his actions differently,” said the judge, who described Morse as controlling and manipulative in his abuse of a vulnerable child.
The girl fled her home and went to a classmate’s house in July 2012, the morning after Morse grabbed her by an ankle and dragged her across a driveway into the family home, where she was spanked and warned of worse punishment the next day. When investigators questioned her, she told them about what she called waterboarding.
The girl’s foster mother and chief trial prosecutor Melanie Withers did a brief victory dance after the sentencing.
“It totally vindicates her, and that’s what this has all been about,” Withers said of the sentence.
Hurley said he planned to appeal to the Supreme Court on rulings regarding Morse’s health and a decision by Stokes to allow jurors to review tapes of interviews the girl and her sister gave to authorities. The tapes already had been shown at trial.
During the trial, Withers portrayed Morse as a brutal “lord and master” of his household, abusing the girl for years. Prosecutors said the abuse included waterboarding, forcing the girl to stand with arms outstretched for hours at a time, confining her to room and alternately depriving her of food or force feeding her. The felony conviction came after the girl said she was waterboarded for vomiting into a cat’s litter box after being forced to drink too much milk.
Cathy Rose, a therapist who has been working with the girl, read a letter Friday in court in which the girl said Morse deserved to be behind bars.
“He needs to fell what it’s like to be a prisoner,” the letter read. “I was a prisoner at home with him.”