Ex-pediatrician goes on trial for allegedly "waterboarding" child

Melvin Morse is charged with child endangerment and assault for allegedly waterboarding an 11-year-old girl. AP Photo

GEORGETOWN, Del. - A jury was seated Monday for the trial of a former Delaware pediatrician accused of "waterboarding" his female companion's 11-year-old daughter by holding her face under a faucet.

A jury of eight women and four men was chosen after the judge presiding over the trial of Melvin Morse excused more than 50 potential jurors for various reasons.

Morse, 60, was arrested in August 2012 after the girl told investigators he had subjected her to "waterboarding" several times by holding her face under a running faucet. Waterboarding simulates drowning and it has been used in the past by U.S. interrogators on terror suspects. Many critics call it torture.

Morse has pleaded not guilty to child endangerment and assault charges. He denies police claims that he may have been experimenting on the girl.

Several of those dismissed from the jury pool Monday said they had family members and friends who have served in law enforcement or knew witnesses expected to testify. That raised questions about whether they might unfairly favor certain witness testimony.  Others disclosed, some tearfully, abuse they or others close to them had suffered as children.

Some cited strong opposition to corporal punishment of children, while several noted that they had read or listened to media coverage about the case.

"I have a bias against child abuse, totally," said one man who was dismissed.

Another suggested that he already thought Morse was guilty.

"I have a problem, first of all, with him being a doctor and doing this to his own daughter," said the man, who was excused by Judge Richard Stokes.

Morse has authored several books and articles on paranormal science and near-death experiences involving children. He has appeared on shows such as "Larry King Live" and the "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to discuss his research, which also has been featured on an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" and in an article in "Rolling Stone" magazine.

The girl's mother, Pauline Morse, agreed last year to plead guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment charges and to testify against him.

The allegations of waterboarding came after Morse was accused of grabbing the girl by the ankle in July 2012 and, as her younger sister watched, dragging her across a gravel driveway. He was arrested on misdemeanor endangerment and assault charges and released on bail.

When the alleged victim was subsequently interviewed, she told investigators that Morse also had disciplined her by holding her face under a running faucet at least four times since 2009, a punishment she said was called "waterboarding."

Morse's defense attorney, Joseph Hurley, said shortly after the doctor's arrest that the alleged victim had "opposition issues," and that she had complained to her parents several years ago about being abused by a half-sibling. Hurley said the parents contacted authorities and the half-sibling was arrested, but that the girl confessed months later that the incident never happened.

Trial testimony was to begin Tuesday morning. The judge also is weighing defense requests to reconsider a ruling regarding the admissibility of certain evidence, and to allow attorneys to question the girl without the jury present before jurors are allowed to hear her testimony.


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