GEORGETOWN, Del. – A Delaware girl who claims she was waterboarded by her mother's longtime companion, a former pediatrician, did not provide some details of the abuse she said she suffered for years until shortly before she testified at trial, witnesses said Monday.
Under questioning by defense attorneys for Melvin Morse, a state police detective said when the girl, now 12, was interviewed by authorities in August 2012, she did not say that he shouted "Die! Die!" during any of the times she said he held her head under a kitchen sink faucet. Nor did she say that Morse had put a trash bag over her head, or that she once played dead when she says he was suffocating her with his hand so he would let her go.
Laurel Braunstein, a social worker for the state attorney general's office, testified that the girl first told authorities about playing dead and having the trash bag put over head when she spoke with prosecutors on Feb. 2, the day before she took the stand in Morse's trial.
Morse, 60, was arrested in August 2012, accused of endangerment and assault. He could get more than 20 years in prison if convicted. The girl says the waterboarding left her struggling for breath and was only one of several forms of physical punishment to which Morse subjected her. Waterboarding simulates drowning and has been used in the past by U.S. interrogators on terror suspects. Many critics call it torture.
The allegations of waterboarding surfaced after the girl ran away from home in July 2012, the morning after Morse reportedly grabbed her 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.
Morse, who is expected to begin testifying later Monday, has denied police claims that he may have been using waterboarding to experiment on the girl. His medical license was suspended after his arrest.
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.
Defense attorneys have suggested that the waterboarding allegations involved hair washing that the girl did not like.
But Braunstein said the girl told prosecutors in September 2012 that Morse waterboarded her by taking the spray attachment in the kitchen sink and spraying water up her nose, causing her pain.
"She said once or twice she felt like she was going to die," Braunstein said.
Only recently the girl found out Morse wasn't her biological father.
The girl also has said Morse subjected her to other forms punishment, including being forced to stand for long periods with arms outstretched and her head against a wall, being deprived of food or force-fed, and being confined to her room without access to the bathroom, forcing her to wet herself or use her closet or toy box as a toilet.
A family services investigator who interviewed the girl the day she ran away testified Monday that the girl told her Morse had spanked her the day before, but that she didn't say at the time, as she has testified, that Morse had slapped her so hard she couldn't see.
Defense attorneys also presented jurors with reports in which the girl told a therapist in 2008 that she was not afraid of her father and that she felt safe at home. The therapist also reported that the girl had recanted a previous slapping in 2008.
A female relative pleaded guilty in 2007 to unlawful sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child after molesting the girl. But the girl testified last week that she made up a story of a similar molestation by the same relative in late 2009.
The girl's mother, Pauline Morse, agreed last year to plead guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment charges and to testify against Melvin Morse.
She testified that she saw Morse with the girl's head under the sink faucet once, but that he said he was washing the girl's hair. She said she didn't believe him.