The Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday denied Connell Watkins’ appeal of her 16-year sentence handed down by a Jefferson County judge in 2001.
Watkins was found guilty of reckless child abuse resulting in death for the rebirthing therapy of Candace, a North Carolina girl brought to Colorado by her adoptive mother for psychological help.
“I’m glad that they saw that she stay in there,” said Mary Davis, Candace’s biological grandmother, in Vale, N.C. “It’s only right.”
The appellate court ruled that Jefferson County District Court Judge Jane Tidball was correct in limiting testimony from some of the families who had also undergone therapy with Watkins. Tidball wouldn’t allow them to testify about “holding therapy,” another procedure Candace underwent that involves lying on therapists’ laps with arms and legs held down.
“We agree with the trial court that the effectiveness of that type of therapy on prior occasions was not relevant to the issue whether defendant acted recklessly in conducting the rebirthing therapy at issue here,” the court wrote.
Watkins’ attorney, Jean Dubofsky, said she was disappointed at the decision but that Watkins may appeal back to the Jefferson County court or the Colorado Supreme Court.
Watkins is serving her time in the Cañon City women’s facility.
Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, whose office fought the appeal, said he was pleased at the outcome. “The court essentially simply affirmed that adults are responsible for their criminal recklessness when caring for a child, regardless of whether it is called ‘therapy’ or some other form of unusual care or treatment,” Salazar said.
The April 1999 therapy, done in Watkins’ home, killed Candace after a 70-minute procedure said to mimic the birth process. She was wrapped in a flannel sheet, surrounded by pillows, and four adults pushed against her to simulate contractions.
Candace screamed for help, saying she couldn’t breathe and that she was dying. “Go ahead and die,” the therapists said, explaining later that they needed to break her habit of controlling adults.
Candace’s adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker of Raleigh, N.C., believed Candace suffered from attachment disorder. Her inability to attach to her caretaker often produced violent and belligerent behavior.
Another therapist who assisted Watkins, Julie Ponder, was sentenced to 16 years for the same conviction. Her appeal is pending while she serves time in a Denver-area prison.
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