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Jurors watch disturbing 'rebirthing therapy' video


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GOLDEN, Colorado (CNN) -- Several jurors wiped tears and at least one cried openly as the video of a controversial "rebirthing" session that ended in death was played for the first time in a Colorado courtroom.

Two therapists are charged with child abuse in the death of their client, 10-year-old Candace Newmaker of Durham, North Carolina.

The two-hour video, shot April 18, 2000, first shows Candace drawing a picture on a wall board to be later analyzed as "art therapy." About 30 minutes later, therapist Julie Ponder, 40, tells Candace it is time to be "reborn."

Candace is wrapped in a blue flannel sheet and covered with pillows. Another therapist, Connell Watkins, 54, and two other adults come into the room and lean onto her covered body to simulate birth contractions. Candace is then instructed to "fight to live" -- struggle to emerge from the blanket and be "reborn" into the arms of her adoptive mother, who stood by.

Over the next 70 minutes Candace is first heard periodically struggling and screaming, "I can't do it"; "I can't breathe"; "I'm going to throw up"; "I'm going to poop."

Later she is heard breathing hard and softly whimpering. For the final 20 minutes nothing is heard from her.

The therapists press against the girl throughout and are heard telling Candace, "You have to fight to live"; "You're a quitter"; "If you don't have the courage to live, it's easier to die."

Ponder ultimately unwraps Candace. The girl is unconscious, not breathing, and without a pulse.

Ponder begins CPR. Candace's adoptive mother screams, "She's dead." Watkins calls out for someone to call 9-1-1.

The video ends.

Candace was airlifted to a hospital and the next morning was pronounced dead of asphyxiation.

Ponder and Watkins are charged with reckless child abuse leading to death and are now on trial.

The adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker, 47, will face a lesser charge of negligent child abuse leading to death. The two therapy assistants also will face lesser charges.

Newmaker adopted Candace in 1996. She testified earlier this week that her daughter's behavior had become so outrageous that she flew from North Carolina to Colorado and paid $7,000 to obtain the controversial therapy treatment provided by Watkins and Ponder.

Rebirthing is considered an experimental treatment and is not recognized as legitimate by all health care professionals. In addition, prosecutors said Watkins and Ponder had performed only about five previous such treatments before their encounter with Candace. Each of those lasted no more than six minutes, they said

Neither Watkins nor Ponder is a licensed therapist. While Colorado does not require a license for practicing psycho-therapy, all individuals must register with the state. Both therapists' registrations had lapsed.

The trial is expected to continue through next week. If convicted, the two women could be sentenced to a maximum of 48 years in prison.


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