A Delaware pediatrician accused of waterboarding his 11-year-old stepdaughter admitted in court on Tuesday to injuring the girl by dragging her over a gravel driveway in what he described as a moment of carelessness.
Melvin Morse, a best-selling author on near-death experiences, is standing trial on child endangerment charges dating back to July 2012 when police were called to his home over the driveway incident.
His stepdaughter, 11 at the time, told authorities that Morse, 60, had waterboarded her on four occasions. He has denied this during his trial, now in its third week.
“Why did you drag her out of the car by her ankle?” state prosecutor Melanie Withers asked during four-and-a-half hours of cross-examination.
“I just reached in there and grabbed her,” said Morse, who has appeared on Oprah and Good Morning America. “I did pull her out of the car roughly, carelessly.”
When the girl, whose name has been withheld due to her age, began screaming and kicking, Morse dropped her and dragged her across the gravel driveway, he said.
“I’m sure I put marks on her,” he said. “I was careless.”
Morse denied allegations that he prevented his stepdaughter from bathing, suffocated her and kept her in her room without access to a bathroom.
He said he “berated” the girl to encourage her to eat more, but never force-fed her, as she and her mother have testified.
“I believe we had a loving home,” Morse said.
He described the girl, now 12, as “deeply troubled” and in constant therapy.
Withers also asked Morse why he had recorded videos of himself lecturing the girl and showed the Sussex County Superior Court photographs of the child crying, which she said Morse had taken.
“Are you proud of the fact, now, that you took them?” Withers asked.
“I’m ashamed,” said Morse, who also admitted to slapping the girl more than once. “I’m not a perfect person by any means.”
On Monday, Morse denied waterboarding the girl, the daughter of his now-estranged wife Pauline Morse, and said he had only been trying to wash her hair. Last week, the girl testified that she had feared for her life during the process.
Typically associated with the interrogation of terrorism suspects, waterboarding in general involves holding a cloth over a person’s face and flooding it with water to simulate drowning.
Morse said many of the parenting techniques presented as evidence against him, including the video recordings and a discipline journal, were inspired by advice during family therapy sessions.
Under cross-examination by defense attorneys last week, the girl admitted to having said in previous testimony that her older half-sister had sexually abused her twice, when there had been only one instance of molestation.