GEORGETOWN, Delaware (Reuters) - A well-known Delaware doctor accused of waterboarding his 11-year-old stepdaughter admitted at his trial on Monday to slapping the girl and putting her in ‘time out’ up to six times a day.
Dr. Melvin Morse, 60, said the girl, now 12, used to be “the darling of the family,” but she “became defiant” after being tormented and sexually molested by her teenaged half-sister, who was ultimately sent away to live in an institution.
“She was, naturally, angry at us for not protecting her,” the pediatrician testified in his own defense at his child endangerment trial in Sussex County Superior Court in Georgetown, Delaware.
On occasion during time-outs, “she would just give me the middle finger the whole time she was standing,” he said, adding there were instances when made her stand in ‘time-out’ as many as six times a day.
“Sometimes it felt like I was pushing her buttons, and she was pushing my buttons,” testified Morse, a best-selling author on near-death experiences.
At one point, “she stuck a finger in her nose, and I slapped her; I did,” he told the jury.
When questioned about accusations that he waterboarded the child, who is the daughter of his now-estranged wife Pauline Morse, the doctor explained that he was only trying to wash her hair.
“Pauline wanted me to do it” because it was “a thrash” every time she tried to wash the girl’s hair, Morse testified.
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.
“I did say to her, ‘I’m not waterboarding you. This isn’t some kind of torture. I just want your hair to be clean,’” recalled Morse, saying the girl would struggle and scream.
“I know I didn’t do it more than five times, because it wasn’t worth it,” he testified. He was arrested in 2012.
Pauline Morse, 41, was also arrested for suspected child abuse. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in May and agreed to testify against Morse.
Morse said many of the parenting techniques presented as evidence against him, including the creation of a discipline journal and home videos of him lecturing the girl, were inspired by advice he received during family therapy sessions.
“I wanted to see how I sounded,” Morse said of his self-recorded lectures.
Morse heads the Institute for the Scientific Study of Consciousness and has appeared on “Oprah” and “Good Morning America.”
In response to Pauline Morse’s testimony last week that “there was no playing” at home, the defense presented photos of the girl playing with blocks, driving a miniature electric car and playing a board game with her mother.
Morse was expected to return to the witness stand on Tuesday for cross-examination by the prosecution. Jurors could hear closing arguments as early as Tuesday afternoon, followed by the judge’s legal instructions and the start of their deliberations.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh