Sixteen Year Sentence To Stick For "Rebirthing" Therapist Convicted
In Newmaker Death
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 24, 2005
DENVER, COLORADO--A therapist convicted in the suffocation death of 10-year-old Candace Newmaker has been denied a hearing to appeal her 16 year sentence.
The Colorado Supreme Court last Monday refused to consider Julie Ponder's appeal. The decision means that Ponder has no further legal recourse in state court to challenge her April 2001 conviction of reckless child abuse resulting in Candace's death, the Associated Press reported.
Ponder and co-therapist Connell Watkins directed an intensive therapy regime intended to force the girl, who was diagnosed with learning disabilities and mental illness, to bond emotionally with her adoptive mother. Candace's adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker, brought the girl from their North Carolina home to the counseling center in Evergreen, Colorado to go through the two week program.
The therapy involved a "rebirthing" session, designed to symbolize a live birth. Candace was wrapped in a cotton sheet from head to toe, to simulate a mother's womb, then surrounded by pillows. Ponder and Watkins, along with other staff members, leaned into the pillows, while Candace was to fight her way out, much like a baby would in a real birth. The theory was that Ms. Newmaker would be there to comfort Candace after her "birth".
During the three week trial of Ponder and Watkins, jurors watched a video-tape of the one-hour session. In spite of her screams saying that she could not breathe, that she needed to use the bathroom, and that she had vomited on herself, the therapists would not release Candace. They also apparently mistook her lack of struggling as a lack of cooperation: Twenty minutes had elapsed from what investigators believed was Candace's last breath to when the therapists took the sheet off of her.
Watkins and Ponder were both convicted of the crime and given a 16 year sentence, which is the shortest sentence allowed. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum sentence to send a message to other mental health professionals to stop using this risky treatment method.
Jeane Newmaker and therapy assistants Brita St. Clair and Jack McDaniel all pleaded guilty to criminally negligent child abuse resulting in death.
Newmaker was sentenced to four years of probation and 400 hours of community service, while St. Clair and McDaniel were each sentenced to 10 years of probation.
Last August, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld Ponder's conviction and sentence. Her attorney had argued that Ponder's case should not have been joined with that of Watkins. The appeals court said the cases included much of the same evidence.
On April 17, 2001, three days before the jury handed down the original guilty verdicts in the case, Colorado Governor Bill Owens signed "Candace's Law", a measure outlawing future "rebirthing" or "holding" therapies in the state.
"Candace Newmaker: Death Through 'Rebirthing' Therapy" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)