GEORGETOWN, Delaware (Reuters) - A well-known Delaware doctor would punish his stepdaughter by making her stand for hours with her arms outstretched, depriving her of food and forbidding her from using the bathroom, the girl's mother told a court on Thursday.
Pauline Morse testified that she refrained from intervening in order not to undermine her celebrated husband, Dr. Melvin Morse, a best-selling author on near-death experiences.
Melvin Morse, 60, is standing trial on child endangerment charges. He was arrested in 2012 after the girl, then 11, told authorities that she had been waterboarded on four occasions.
Pauline Morse told the court that she saw Morse holding her daughter under a faucet in the kitchen. When she appeared, Morse put down the girl, who started coughing and crying.
"He called it 'washing her hair,' but I knew it wasn't washing her hair because there was no soap or anything," she said. "It didn't occur to me what was happening."
Waterboarding, typically associated with the interrogation of terrorism suspects, in general involves holding a cloth over a person's face and flooding it with water to simulate drowning.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Joe Hurley argued that Pauline Morse was only pretending to be intimidated by her husband. He displayed text messages she sent to Morse calling him a "weenie" and criticizing him.
Under questioning, Pauline Morse was unable to corroborate many of the details her daughter gave during her testimony. She also said she had lied under oath about the girl's biological father being abusive in order to get a restraining order against him.
"I think the theme running throughout (the girl's) testimony and Pauline's testimony is they have lied to police, prosecutors and everyone involved in the case," defense attorney Kevin Tray said after the session.
The girl, not identified because she is a minor, admitted during cross-examination on Tuesday that she had lied under oath about being molested by a family member in 2010.
Pauline Morse was also arrested for suspected child abuse. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in May and agreed to testify against Morse. She had faced 25 years if convicted on child endangerment and other charges.
Shortly after Melvin Morse was arrested and charged, he and his wife "talked about ways of trying to cover it up" while he was home on bail, Pauline Morse testified.
Melvin Morse heads the Institute for the Scientific Study of Consciousness and has appeared on "Oprah" and "Good Morning America."
Writing by Jon Herskovitz and Ian Simpson; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Lisa Shumaker