Published Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 | 7:51 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 | 7:51 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) — A former pediatrician accused of waterboarding his longtime companion's young daughter by holding the girl's head under a faucet said Tuesday that he never intentionally harmed her during what he called hair washing.
Under cross-examination by prosecutors, Melvin Morse said that what prosecutors call waterboarding was simply his effort to rinse soap suds out of the girl's hair after she took a shower or bath. He also said the girl didn't like having her hair washed. The girl is now 12; Morse said the hair washing occurred for only a span of a few weeks or months in early 2009.
"Were you hurting her on purpose, Dr. Morse?" asked prosecutor Melanie Withers.
"No," replied Morse, who is being tried on endangerment and assault charges and faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges. Testimony is expected to conclude Wednesday, followed by closing arguments by attorneys.
Much of Tuesday's cross-examination focused on what Morse said were attempts by him and the girl's mother, Pauline Morse, to deal with misbehavior. He also talked about the years of family counseling they went through.
Morse has described the girl as a talented young artist and musician, an avid reader and honor roll student, and a good child. But he also testified that she has had significant behavioral and emotional problems.
Asked by Withers why the girl would scream and yell during the hair rinsing, Morse said "it was a big deal" to the girl. "She did not like this process."
Morse, 60, said the girl had a fear of having her hair washed, and that he would encourage her to rinse it herself. He testified that the routine was for the girl to bathe and dry herself, then come downstairs to the kitchen, where he would hold her head underneath a faucet with a detachable sprayer to rinse out the remaining suds.
Withers then showed jurors an excerpt from an interview of the girl's younger sister at a child advocacy center in August 2012.
"Dad cleans her hair by waterboarding," the younger girl said. "That means pouring water on her hair by the kitchen sink."
The younger girl also said her sister didn't like having her hair washed "because water gets in her face and eyes and stuff."
Withers, in her cross-examination, tried to imply that the younger sister's statement in August 2012 suggests that the last allegation of waterboarding occurred much later than early 2009, as Morse said.
The girl and her mother, Pauline Morse, have said Melvin Morse used hair washing as a threat or punishment. They also said Morse last did it only a month or two before the girl ran away from home in July 2012, the morning after he reportedly grabbed the girl by the ankle and dragged her across a gravel driveway into the house, where she was spanked and warned of worse punishment the next day.
On Tuesday, he acknowledged that he sometimes was insensitive and rough with the girl, but he denied that he enjoyed humiliating her or causing her pain. He acknowledged that he could have been a better parent, and that some of his actions contradicted his own writings arguing that corporal punishment is ineffective and counterproductive.
Morse has authored several books and articles on paranormal science and near-death experiences involving children. He has appeared on shows such as "Larry King Live" and the "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to discuss his research, which also has been featured on an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" and in an article in "Rolling Stone" magazine.
He has denied police claims that he may have been using waterboarding to experiment on the girl.
Waterboarding, as used in the past by U.S. interrogators on terror suspects, simulates drowning. Many critics call it torture.
"I believe strongly that we did a good job in a difficult situation," Morse said.
Asked about videos he took of the girl while he lectured her about her behavior, Morse said he came across as condescending and berating.
"I don't think that's good parenting," he said. "... I was not being sensitive to her feelings."
Morse, who also acknowledged slapping the girl more than once, said some of his actions amounted to a "failure of parenting."
"I'm not proud of it.... I'm certainly not a perfect person."