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Rebirthing Therapist Sentenced

A judge Monday sentenced a therapist to 16 years in prison in the death of a 10-year-old girl who begged for air and screamed for mercy after she was bound head-to-toe in a flannel sheet during a discredited psychotherapy procedure called "rebirthing."

Connell Watkins, 54, sobbed and was hugged by her lawyers after Jefferson County Judge Jane Tidball pronounced sentence.

"I hope this sends a very clear message to those who treat children that they are not allowed to abuse them. The psychological community needs to police themselves and when they don't we will step in," Prosecutor Steve Jensen said.

Watkins was found guilty April 20 of reckless child abuse resulting in death.

Candace Newmaker, who had been in foster homes, was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, meaning she could not bond with her adoptive mother. In the "rebirthing" session she was told to fight her way out of the sheet so she could be "reborn" to her new mother.

During the trial jurors viewed a chilling 70-minute videotape of the therapy session in April 2000 where the girl begged for air and screamed she was dying only to have her pleas met with sarcasm from the therapists. Four adults leaned on Candace with pillows, applying several hundred pounds of pressure.

The girl who lived with her adoptive mother Jeane Newmaker in North Carolina lost consciousness during the session and died the next day in a Denver hospital.

Prosecutor Steve Jensen argued for the maximum sentence, saying Watkins had shown little remorse. He called the therapy "torturous cruelty of a sickening and depraved nature."

But the judge noted that Watkins had no criminal record and said there was no indication she had ever meant to hurt Candace. "The crime itself was horrifying. However, there was no evidence at the trial that the defendant wanted to harm Candace Newmaker," Tidball said. She said the sentence would send a powerful message to other therapists.

The defense argued the death was a tragic accident and the therapists believed the girl was being manipulative when she said she could not breathe. Watkins' attorney Craig Truman said his client would appeal her conviction and sentence.

The girl's adoptive mother testified that the child was difficult to handle and had started a fire in the home and that she turned to Watkins as a last resort.

In a brief statement before the sentence was announced Watkins accepted full responsibility for the girl's death.

"I feel sorrow, regret and remorse that torments me every waking hour. I failed Candace and I failed her mother. I accept full responsibility. I'm ready to accept what you require of me," Watkins said.

The type of treatment the girl underwent is no longer allowed in Colorado. During the trial Gov. Bill Owens signed "Candace's law," which bans rebirthing on children.

A second therapist, Julie Ponder, who led the session in Watkins' home, was convicted of reckless child abuse in April anawaits sentencing later Monday.

Newmaker, who was present during the session, is scheduled to go on trial in November on charges of criminally negligent child abuse.

Watkins' office manager and an intern await trial in September.

© MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Limited and contributed to this report

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