Hearing for "Holding Therapy" Death postponed

Hearing for "Holding Therapy" Death postponed

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- The preliminary hearing for the couple accused of child abuse homicide was postponed Thursday because of a dispute between lawyers about what sort of testimony is admissible at such a hearing.

Richard Killpack, 35, and his wife, Jennete, 27, are accused of causing their adopted daughter, four-year-old Cassandra, to die on June 9 by forcing her to drink massive amounts of water as punishment.

Attorneys disagreed about how much testimony is necessary at a preliminary hearing, which determines if the case will continue to trial, in order to meet a reckless endangerment standard. Fourth District Judge James Taylor said he will accept briefs on the matter at a hearing on May 29.

Doctors say 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, Dr. Anne Moon testified Monday in 4th District Court. The result was the girl's brain was unable to get oxygen, she said.

When Cassandra was admitted to Primary Children's intensive care unit, she already was brain dead, Moon said.

In court Thursday, Jennete's brother, Daniel Burton, said he and his wife took the couple's other two children into their home for about three months. Now the children are back in the Killpacks' custody.

The Burtons refused to discuss the allegations against the Killpacks, but Daniel Burton said Cassandra had been in several foster homes and was sometimes a problem child. "She had a hard time attaching to her parents," he said. "She could be very sweet, but also very much a discipline problem."

The Killpacks also gave birth in December to another child.

The couple have said they required their adopted daughter Cassandra to ask for everything, including food and water, to help her understand dependency.

When she took something without permission, the Killpacks would discipline her by forcing her to consume it in excess. They claim they took the advice of therapists at the Cascade Center for Family Growth in Orem.

Craig Snyder, the center's attorney, said Thursday that the center does not promote forced water drinking. "We did nothing to cause this child's death," he said. "Cascade therapists have never advocated water therapy."

The Killpacks face up to 15 years in prison on a charge of child abuse homicide and up to five years on a charge of child abuse.

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

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