Therapists sentenced to 16 years in rebirthing death

Denver Post/June 18, 2001
By Judith Kohler

Golden -- Two therapists today were sentenced to 16 years in prison in the death of a 10-year-old girl who suffocated while wrapped in blankets during a "rebirthing" session.

Connell Watkins, 54, and Julie Ponder, 40, received the minimum sentence for the death of Candace Newmaker. They could have gotten 48 years behind bars. "I failed Candace and I failed her mother," Watkins told Jefferson County Judge Jane Tidball. "I failed to keep Candace out of harm's way."

The girl was covered in blankets and pillows meant to simulate the womb and was encouraged to push her way out during the April 2000 session. Therapists hoped she would emerge "reborn" to bond with her adoptive mother.

A jury convicted Watkins of reckless child abuse in April. Ponder, who led the session in Watkins' home, was convicted of the same charge. Prosecutor Steve Jensen argued for the maximum sentence, saying Watkins had shown little remorse.

He called the therapy "torturous cruelty of a sickening and depraved nature." But the judge noted that there was no indication either therapist had ever meant to hurt Candace. Tidball said the sentence would send a powerful message to other therapists.

A videotape of the 70-minute therapy session was shown to the jury. Four adults leaned on Candace with pillows, applying several hundred pounds of pressure.

The girl had been diagnosed with attachment disorder, in which children resist forming loving relationships and are violent and unmanageable. Colorado has since outlawed the therapy.

Candace's adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker, is scheduled to go on trial in November on charges of criminally negligent child abuse. Watkins' office manager and an intern await trial in September.

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