Charges Elevated in Water Drinking Death Case

Charges Elevated in Water Drinking Death Case

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- The charges against a Springville couple accused of killing their adopted daughter by forcing her to drink too much water have been raised from second-degree felony child-abuse homicide to first-degree felony murder.

Richard and Jennete Killpack also are charged with child abuse, a third-degree felony.

Defense attorneys said Wednesday in 4th District Court that they would oppose the new charges and that they stand by their motion filed earlier this month stating the original charges against their clients were unfounded.

Phil Danielson, attorney for Richard Killpack, said the new charge gives prosecutors an even higher burden of proof.

"We obviously don't think it was an intentional act, much less done recklessly," Danielson said.

Citing a court gag order, Danielson declined to state the grounds for challenging the new charges.

Also citing the gag order, Sherry Ragan, a Utah County prosecutor, declined to say why the new charges were filed, although the action comes after defense attorneys raised questions about the "intent" requirement in the child-abuse homicide statute, which they contend is vague.

Judge James Taylor set a June 25 hearing at which he will rule on the new charges and on whether to proceed with a preliminary hearing that was halted after defense attorneys raised their questions about the child-abuse homicide law.

Prosecutors allege the Killpacks forced their 4-year-old adopted daughter, Cassandra, to drink at least 2.5 liters of water on June 9, 2002, as punishment for taking her younger sister's juice.

Doctors said the amount of water Cassandra ingested lowered the sodium level in her bloodstream, which upset her brain function, causing it to swell and triggering seizures.

The girl's lungs also were disabled from water that entered her lungs during the forced drinking session, as well as from aspirating vomit during the seizures.

In the new charges against the Killpacks, the state retains the right to charge the couple with child abuse homicide if the courts decide not to allow murder charges.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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