Beliefnet
DENVER, April 18 - Gov. Bill Owens hugged Candace Newmaker's grandmother Tuesday after he signed a bill banning the rebirthing therapy technique that allegedly took the 10-year-old's life. "I'm sorry about your loss," Owens whispered as he embraced Mary Davis, Candace's maternal grandmother. "Perhaps little Candace's death is going to allow us to avoid tragedies like this in the future," Owens said.

Mary and David Davis stood with Owens as he signed into law House Bill 1238, prohibiting the controversial practice in Colorado. "On behalf of Candace and my family ... I would like to thank each and every one of you for passing this bill," Mary Davis said. "Candace, if she could see this, she would smile and say, 'Thank you all.'"

Under the new law, therapists who use the rebirthing technique will face misdemeanor criminal charges on a first offense. Repeat offenders will be charged with a felony. "Candace Newmaker should not have died," said Rep. Debbie Stafford, R-Aurora, who sponsored HB1238 in the House. "Candace suffered, she was tortured, and it was not appropriate. I believe Candace's Law is the right thing to protect kids in the future."

Candace died in April 2000 from asphyxiation after undergoing rebirthing therapy. She was wrapped in a blanket and surrounded by pillows to simulate a womb as therapists pushed against her for 70 minutes. During the treatment, Candace begged for it to stop, soiled herself and told the therapists she was going to die. Candace stopped breathing 30 minutes before she was unwrapped from the blankets. She died in a Denver hospital the next day. "I don't think there is any way anyone can read about this and not be horrified," said Sen. Mark Hillman, R-Burlington, Senate sponsor of the bill.

The practice was aimed at treating attachment disorder. The idea was to get Candace to emerge reborn from the simulated womb and bond with her adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker, of Durham, N.C. The two therapists, Connell Watkins, 54, and Julie Ponder, 40, were charged with reckless child abuse resulting in the death. The two are standing trial in Jefferson County. Candace's mother faces trial in November on a lesser charge of criminally negligent child abuse resulting in death. Stafford will spend the summer studying other therapy techniques that include restraint to determine whether they need to be banned.

In Golden, Co., where Watkins and Ponder are on trial, Watkins told jurors Tuesday that she had no idea a 10-year-old was in danger during a fatal ``rebirthing'' session until another therapist unwrapped a sheet covering the girl and found she wasn't breathing. In her second day on the stand, Watkins gave a step-by-step account of how Candace Newmaker was wrapped in the flannel sheet to simulate a womb while adults pushed against her with pillows for 70 minutes. Candace died of asphyxiation during last year's session.

Watkins, 54, and Ponder, 40, are charged with reckless child abuse resulting in Candace's death. If convicted, they each could face 16 to 48 years in prison.

Watkins said Ponder was in charge of the session and was the one checking on Candace's welfare. Questioned about a gesture she made on the tape, Watkins said: ``I wanted Julie to unwrap her and check on her. I thought she (Candace) fell asleep. Julie said, 'Oh, she's fine. she's a little sweaty but she's fine.''' While Watkins testified, jurors watched a videotape of the therapy session for the second time.

Watkins was treating Candace for attachment disorder, which makes children resist loving relationships and can make them violent and unmanageable. The day before the rebirthing session, Watkins said, Candace had a minor breakthrough. When Jeane Newmaker left the room at Watkins' request, Candace broke into tears. ``It was like a hole through her armor,'' she said.

Watkins decided to follow up the next day with the therapy session. ``I wanted to build on that with the rebirthing technique,'' she said. Watkins said she learned the technique in 1999 and had participated in four other sessions. She said she believed it was safe and had never seen problems with it.

About halfway into the session, the tape shows, Candace was asked if she wanted to be reborn. ``She says very clearly, 'No,' which tells us she's fine,'' Watkins said. ``We had no reason right then to be concerned.''

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus