No prison for Candace's adoptive mom

Fatal rebirthing therapy an attempt to help girl, judge says; woman can resume nursing career

Denver Rocky Mountain News/October 12, 2001
By Peggy Lowe

Golden -- Candace Newmaker's adoptive mother will serve no jail time for her role in her daughter's death and will be able to return to her job as a pediatric nurse practitioner.

Jeane Newmaker, 48, of Durham, N.C., pleaded guilty Thursday to negligent child abuse resulting in death and was given a four-year deferred sentence and 400 hours of community service.

Newmaker also was ordered to undergo grief counseling for the loss of Candace, a 10-year-old girl Newmaker brought to Evergreen for controversial "rebirthing" therapy.

Jefferson County District Judge Jane Tidball dismissed the prosecution's request that Newmaker be barred from working with children for four years.

Newmaker believed that the rebirthing therapy was Candace's last chance at living a good life and did it so the girl wouldn't have to be institutionalized, Tidball said. Newmaker came to Colorado as a parent, not a nurse, and a restriction on her career would be a "meaningless, punitive sanction," the judge said.

"She did come as a mother and a patient. She did put her trust in the hands of people who held themselves out to be professionals," Tidball said.

Newmaker could have been sentenced from four to 16 years in prison for her part in the April 18, 2000, fatal procedure at the home of Connell Watkins, an unlicensed therapist known for her untraditional procedures. Watkins and another unlicensed therapist, Julie Ponder, are serving 16 years each for reckless child abuse resulting in death.

Tidball said she was impressed that Newmaker did lots of research into her daughter's various illnesses and discovered that many experts recommended Watkins as one of the best therapists for troubled children.

During the trial of Ponder and Watkins, Newmaker testified that Candace was violent and angry, prone to starting fires and abusing animals. Although Candace was never diagnosed with it, Newmaker believed the child suffered from attachment disorder, which experts say is the violent response against a caretaker because of previous abuse.

Newmaker paid $7,000 for the two-week intensive treatment at Watkins' home, which ended in the rebirthing. Candace was wrapped in a blue flannel sheet, made to lie in the fetal position, then huge pillows were placed over her. Watkins, Ponder and two others pushed against her while Newmaker urged her daughter to be "born" to her, to come out of the "womb" and start a new and better life.

But when Candace was unwrapped after the 70-minute procedure, she wasn't breathing and she died the next day at Children's Hospital in Denver.

Newmaker appeared in court Thursday with two co-workers who testified that she was an excellent nurse-practitioner at Duke University Medical Center and won a prestigious award from the university for her skills. Newmaker was especially gifted at seeing certain symptoms as indicators of chronic childhood diseases, said Martha Faris, another Duke pediatric nurse-practitioner.

"It was more than just diagnosis-driven," Faris said of Newmaker. "There was a real caring, not just about the patient, but about the family."

But Steve Jensen, a Jefferson County deputy district attorney, said that if Newmaker was so great at seeing symptoms, why didn't she rescue Candace when she vomited inside the wrapping or begged to be released because she couldn't breathe.

Newmaker shouldn't be working around children because she trusts authority figures too much, as she did when she allowed Watkins to continue with the therapy as her daughter lie dying, Jensen said.

"You cannot just turn over your child to some other person whose judgment is suspect," Jensen said.

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