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Originally published February 7, 2014 at 2:01 PM | Page modified February 7, 2014 at 2:58 PM

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Mother testifies in Delaware waterboarding case

A Delaware woman whose longtime companion is accused of waterboarding her daughter by holding the child's head under a faucet says the couple used the term jokingly for hair washing.


Associated Press

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GEORGETOWN, Del. —

A Delaware woman whose longtime companion is accused of waterboarding her daughter by holding the child's head under a faucet says the couple used the term jokingly for hair washing.

"I think sometimes we would joke about it and call it waterboarding," Pauline Morse said in a police interview shown to jurors Friday in the trial of Melvin Morse.

In the 2012 interview, Pauline Morse also said the "hair washing" by Melvin Morse, a former pediatrician, was usually over quickly.

"She's making noises the whole time and it's usually a matter of less than a minute," she told the detective.

"I didn't see whether (water) was on her face or not," she added.

Pauline Morse reiterated Friday that she saw only one such incident, when she walked into the kitchen and surprised Melvin Morse while he had the girl's head under the faucet. She testified on Thursday that Morse jumped and quickly released the girl, who was coughing and shaking.

Melvin Morse, 60, is accused of endangerment and assault and could get more than 20 years in prison if convicted. The girl claims the waterboarding left her struggling for breath and was only one of several forms of physical punishment to which Morse subjected her.

In testimony earlier in the week, however, she also acknowledged that she had lied several times about her treatment at home and about whether she told anyone about the alleged abuse.

Melvin Morse, whose medical license was suspended after his arrest, 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.

Morse has denied police claims that he may have been using waterboarding to experiment on the girl, now 12.

Pauline Morse, 41, reached a deal with prosecutors last year to plead guilty to misdemeanor endangerment charges in exchange for her testimony against Melvin Morse. She received probation.

But as she did under cross-examination Thursday, Pauline Morse on Friday acknowledged several contradictions in her testimony and in statements she has given to authorities.

Asked by defense attorney Joseph Hurley how long the girl had not liked having her hair washed, Pauline Morse said she didn't remember the girl not liking it, at least when her mother did it. Jurors then watched a police interview video in which Pauline said the girl "never liked having her hair washed."

Presented with the video, Pauline then testified that the girl had not liked having her hair washed for "as far as I can remember."

At the end of his cross-examination, Hurley asked Pauline Morse whether she could assure jurors "with absolute certainty" that she had not lied under oath since Melvin Morse was arrested. She answered "Yes."

Less than a minute later, Pauline Morse was forced to admit that she had lied under oath in a Family Court proceeding in July 2012, shortly after Melvin Morse was arrested.

Under questioning by prosecutor Melanie Withers, Pauline Morse said she would wash the girl's hair maybe once a week, in the bathtub, even though the girl was capable of washing her own hair. But she said Melvin Morse would use hair washing as a form of punishment, and that he started referring to it as waterboarding shortly before his arrest.

Friday's final witness was the alleged victim's 7-year-old sister, the only child Melvin and Pauline Morse had together. The girl testified that the alleged victim, Pauline Morse's daughter from a previous relationship, got into trouble much more often than she did and was not spoiled like she was.

Jurors also were shown a 2012 video of the younger girl being interviewed at a child advocacy center. In that interview, she said both she and her sister were subjected to timeouts and spankings, but that the older girl also was sometimes confined to her room and had to do more chores. Repeatedly pressed about any other forms of punishment, the girl does not mention any, until the interviewer brings up the word "water."

The girl then said Melvin Morse sometimes dumped water on her sister.

"Dad cleaned her hair by waterboarding," the 7-year-old said, adding that her older sister didn't like it "because water got in her face, in her eyes and stuff."

"I don't know if it got in her face or not," the girl added.

In his brief cross-examination, Hurley had Melvin Morse stand and asked the girl if she recognized him.

"No, I don't think so," she said.

Morse slumped down at the defense table and buried his head in his arms.



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