GEORGETOWN, Delaware (Reuters) - A Delaware jury found a prominent pediatrician and best-selling author guilty on Thursday of endangering his stepdaughter in a trial featuring testimony that he subjected the girl to a form of waterboarding to punish her.
Dr. Melvin Morse, an author on near-death experiences who has appeared on “Oprah” and “Good Morning America,” could face up to 10 years in prison.
Morse went on trial in late January on charges of child endangerment dating back to July 2012, when his stepdaughter was 11 years old. Prosecutors accused him of preventing the girl from bathing, suffocating her and keeping her in her room without access to a bathroom.
The Sussex County Superior Court jury deliberated for more than five hours before convicting Morse on six of eight counts. They included third-degree assault, endangering the welfare of a child and first-degree reckless endangerment, a felony.
Morse, whose siblings attended much of the trial, showed no reaction when the verdict was read. A sentencing hearing is set for April.
“Dr. Morse was disappointed in the verdict that came out today,” attorney John Brady told reporters. He was standing in for Morse’s regular lawyers, one of whom was sick while the second was stuck in snow.
Prosecutor Melanie Withers, who during the trial called Morse a “highly intelligent, manipulative control freak,” said she was “very gratified” with the conviction. She said she planned to call the girl to share the news.
His stepdaughter, now 12, told authorities that Morse, 60, had physically abused her, including waterboarding her on four occasions and dragging her across a gravel driveway. Morse’s lawyers argued that the girl and her mother, who testified for the prosecution, lied about the abuse.
In his own testimony, Morse denied waterboarding the girl, the daughter of his now-estranged wife Pauline Morse, and said he had only been trying to wash her hair. Earlier in the trial, the girl testified that she had feared for her life during the process.
Typically associated with the interrogation of terrorism suspects, waterboarding in general involves holding a cloth over a person’s face and flooding it with water to simulate drowning.
The girl’s mother, Pauline Morse, who also testified at the trial, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in May.
Reporting by Lacey Johnson; Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker