Rebirthing therapist seeks new trial

Associated Press, July 26, 2003

DENVER (AP) — An Evergreen therapist convicted in the “rebirthing therapy” death of a 10-year-old girl four years ago is asking the Colorado Court of Appeals for a new trial.

Connell Watkins was convicted of a child abuse charge and sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2001. During her trial, Jefferson County District Judge Jane Tidball refused to allow testimony by parents whose children have behavioral problems.

The jury needed to see the therapy wasn’t as “far out” as the prosecution made it seem, and that some parents believed it helped their children, Watkins’ attorney Jean Dubofsky argued Tuesday.

Catherine Adkisson of the state attorney general’s office said the jury heard from some of Watkins’ clients and practitioners of a similar technique in which therapists hold down angry children until they calm down.

“There was testimony in the record that this was successful,” Adkisson said.

Candace Newmaker died April 19, 2000, a day after the rebirthing session in Watkins’ home. The girl had been wrapped in a sheet while Watkins, another therapists and two other adults pushed against several large pillows covering the girl. The technique was meant to simulate labor contractions.

The therapists urged her to be “reborn” to her adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker of Durham, N.C.

Watkins said the session was necessary because the girl wasn’t emotionally attaching to Newmaker and was displaying wild and disruptive behavior.

Dubofsky also argued that Watkins was sentenced for the wrong crime, reckless child abuse resulting in death. She argued that Watkins was not acting recklessly and should have been sentenced for negligent child abuse, which could result in earlier parole.

The other therapist, Julie Ponder, also was sentenced to 16 years.

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