GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) — A pediatrician known for his research on paranormal science and near-death experiences with children was convicted Thursday of waterboarding the daughter of his longtime companion by holding her head under a faucet.
The jury deliberated for about six hours before returning its verdict against Melvin Morse, 60.
Morse was charged with three felonies — two for alleged waterboarding and one for alleged suffocation by hand. He was convicted of one felony — waterboarding in the bathtub — and five misdemeanors. Jurors reduced the second waterboarding charge to a misdemeanor and acquitted Morse of the suffocation charge.
Morse showed no reaction as the verdict was read. He was ordered to surrender his passport and will remain out on bail until his sentencing, set for April 11.
Morse faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, but a lesser punishment is likely under state sentencing guidelines. Each misdemeanor carries a maximum of one year in prison but typically results in probation. The felony reckless endangerment conviction for waterboarding carries a maximum of five years in prison but a presumptive sentence of 15 months.
Prosecutor Melanie Withers said she was "very gratified" by the verdict, and that she was on her way to speak with the victim, now 12 years old.
Morse declined to comment and referred questions to his attorneys.
"He maintains his innocence to this day," said attorney John Brady.
Morse's lead defense attorney, Joseph Hurley, said he planned to appeal.
The girl and her mother, Pauline Morse, testified that Melvin Morse used waterboarding as a threat or a form of punishment. Waterboarding has been used in the past by U.S. interrogators on terror suspects to simulate drowning. Many critics call it torture.
Defense attorneys argued that "waterboarding" was a term jokingly used to describe hair washing the girl did not like.
But Withers portrayed Melvin Morse as a brutal and domineering "lord and master" of his household, abusing the girl for years while her mother acquiesced in silence. Pauline Morse, 41, said she chose to ignore the abuse and was afraid of "undermining" Melvin Morse. She also testified that she did not have a close relationship with the girl for the several years that encompassed the waterboarding, and that she did not pay her much attention.
Pauline Morse pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanor endangerment charges and testified against Melvin Morse. She was not in the courtroom Thursday.
Hurley was highly critical of a decision by the judge to allow jurors to review videotaped interviews of the victim and her younger sister by authorities in August 2012. He said the unsworn statements improperly prejudiced the jury.
"The disappointment is in the court allowing the instant replay of the interviews that were the heart of the state's evidence," Hurley said, adding that replaying the unsworn statements left jurors with an unchallenged version of the state's evidence fresh in their minds.
"That really is powerful evidence under the circumstances in this case," he said. "There will be an appeal on that basis."
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