Verdict Reached In Rebirthing Trial

The Denver Channel/April 20, 2001

Connel Watkins, 54, and Julie Ponder, 40, were found guilty of participating in the death of Candace Newmaker, who died as she underwent a controversial "rebirthing" therapy.

Watkins was also found guilty on lesser charges of criminal impersonation, obtaining a signature by deception, and unlawful practice of psychotherapy.

Watkins and Ponder each face a mandatory sentence of 16 to 48 years in prison. Both were taken into custody after the verdict was announced. They will be sentenced in June. The jury reached its verdict just after 5 p.m. Friday, nearly five hours after it started deliberating.

Watkins and Ponder showed little emotion as the verdict was read, 7NEWS reported. But when they were handcuffed and taken away, both therapists burst into tears. Candace's birth grandmother, Mary Davis, cried and hugged those around her in the courtroom after hearing the verdict.

Candace was being treated by the two therapists for reactive detachment disorder, which is defined as an inability to form loving relationships because of early trauma.

She was wrapped in a flannel sheet to simulate a womb while four adults pushed against her with pillows. The hope was that she would emerge "reborn" to bond with her adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker of Durham, N.C. Prosecutors' key evidence was a videotape of the 70-minute therapy session in which Candace could be heard pleading for her life, saying that she could not breathe and had vomited and defecated.

When Candace said that she felt like she was going to die, one therapist told her, "You want to die? OK, then die. Go ahead, die right now." After about 50 minutes, Candace's whimpering trailed off. When they unwrapped the sheets, Candace was found unconscious.

She died of asphyxiation a day after the "rebirthing" session on April 18, 2000. Candace was being treated at Watkins' Evergreen office, and the defense had argued during the course of the trial that Candace had a prior heart condition that contributed to her death, or that the effects of Evergreen's 7,040-foot elevation played a part.

Watkins and Ponder both testified earlier this week that they had no reason to be concerned of Candace's welfare during the therapy session. Ponder (pictured, left) testified that she checked the girl's breathing. Both therapists said they thought that Candace's screaming protests were manipulative behavior.

The other two adults who participated in the "rebirthing" -- Watkins' office manager, Brita St. Clair, and intern Jack McDaniel --- will be tried in September on child abuse charges.

Jeane Newmaker, the girl's adoptive mother, who was present for part of the therapy, is awaiting trial in November on charges of criminally negligent child abuse resulting in death.

Newmaker had flown Candace from North Carolina to Evergreen specifically for the rebirthing therapy. Candace's fatal session was part of a two-week intensive program that cost $7,000.

Because of the spotlight from Candace's death, rebirthing therapy has been banned in Colorado by a law signed into effect just this week.

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