Girl’s rebirthing was “last chance” to save family — (The Denver Post)

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The Denver Post

April 4, 2001
Author: Kieran Nicholson Denver Post Staff Writer []

Jeane Newmaker, whose 10-year-old daughter, Candace, died after a “rebirthing” session, said Tuesday that the provocative therapy was a desperate attempt to keep her small family together.    Newmaker testified at the trial of Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder, two Evergreen therapists who treated the adopted girl. Both are charged with reckless child abuse resulting in death. The girl suffocated while wrapped in a blanket during the rebirthing therapy.

Newmaker is also a defendant in the case but faces a lesser charge of negligent child abuse resulting in death.

“It was the last chance to save my family,” said Newmaker, wiping away tears.

She told the court that her daughter would go through “meltdowns,” fits of rage where she would destroy things and scream at the top of her lungs for 45 minutes at a time. In one instance, Candace toppled a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in her room and cut up all her books, screaming all the while, Newmaker said. The little girl broke a pair of glass horses that she had adored.

Newmaker said she began medicating Candace six weeks after adopting her in 1996.

She said Candace was diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder and was prescribed Ritalin and, later on, Dexedrine.

As problems continued and she saw more doctors, Candace was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, Newmaker said.  She was prescribed Effexor and Risperdal, and continued to take Dexedrine.

At one point, Candace was having trouble sleeping. She told her mother that “monsters” were coming to get her in her dreams.

Newmaker had an alarm installed on the girl’s bedroom door, believing it would ease her daughter’s mind that monsters were not coming into her room at night.

Candace lied and told fabricated stories, Newmaker said. The fourth-grader was often uncooperative and refused to do what her mother told her.

In the spring of 1999, Newmaker said she awoke in the middle of the night, smelling smoke in her home. She jumped out of bed and called to Candace that their house was on fire. Rushing to the girl’s room, Newmaker found that her daughter was not there.

“She was in the guest room,” Newmaker said. “She was sitting on the bed in the guest room with spent matches all around her.”

Jeane Newmaker said there were burn holes in the floor where the matches had been thrown.

“I was so frightened for her,” she said. “She could have burned herself. She could have killed herself.”

Candace also “forced sexual acts” on two other young girls, her adoptive mother said. She forced them to take their clothes off and she threatened to hurt them if they told anyone. Candace smacked one of the girls twice in the face to drive home her point, Newmaker said.

It was these kinds of actions that had Newmaker constantly seeking help for her daughter, she said, and eventually led her to Watkins & Associates in Evergreen. “I was not prepared for the level of dysfunction I saw in Candace,” she said.

In the four years that Candace and Newmaker spent together, her adoptive mother said she sought the advice, and remedies, of a host of doctors, therapists and social workers back home in North Carolina. She read books on troubled children, researched the Internet and attended conferences.

“I was seeking the best therapy for her and the best people to give her that therapy,” Newmaker said.

She said she saw negative behavior on a daily basis.

Newmaker said there had been many diagnoses, and many labels, for Candace’s condition.

Prosecutor Laura Dunbar asked Newmaker if any of the doctors or therapists they had seen, more than a half dozen in four years, had suggested that Newmaker should undergo therapy herself.

At Dunbar’s request, Newmaker read an opinion from Dr. Mai Mai Ginsburg that stated in part, “Candace’s mother is likely to benefit from counseling.”

“I don’t read that as a suggestion for my own psychotherapy,” Newmaker said.

Newmaker appeared Tuesday as a witness for the prosecution. She was guaranteed immunity, meaning nothing that she says in court can be used against her in her trial later this year.

Candace has two biological siblings, a younger sister and younger brother, who were also adopted, Newmaker said.

She said she located the foster family and she and Candace would keep track of how the brother and sister were getting along.

She said the girl, who is a year younger than Candace and a year older than the boy, threatened to kill her brother. That news seemed to have a troubling effect on Candace and made her act out even more, Newmaker said.

Newmaker said Candace’s biological mother had been molested as a child and that she, too, had an uncontrollable temper. Newmaker said the biological mother had been “rebellious” as a teenager and had to be placed in a supervised program.

She said that Candace’s problems were “multigenerational.”