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Jury to hear previous allegations

Ruling sets the stage for parents' Sept. 12 trial in child's death

PROVO — A judge ruled Thursday that Utah County prosecutors can use previous allegations of child abuse as evidence against a Springville couple charged with child abuse homicide.

Citing previous cases, 4th District Court Judge Claudia Laycock said the allegations cannot be used to prove guilt in this case — but can be used to establish a pattern of behavior for the defendants, Richard and Jennete Killpack.

The Killpacks are charged with one count of child abuse homicide, a second-degree felony, and two charges of child neglect/abuse — one second- degree felony, one third-degree felony — for the 2002 death of their 4-year-old adopted daughter, Cassandra.

"I acknowledge that while certainly damaging to the defendants in the eyes of a jury," Laycock said, "(the previous allegations) are relevant."

The allegations include testimony from the Killpacks' 7-year-old daughter that Jennete Killpack bound Cassandra's arms behind her with rope. In a separate incident, Jennete Killpack allegedly struck Cassandra on the head with a metal object, causing her to bleed.

Attorneys for both sides could not comment on the ruling because of a gag order imposed by the court.

Prosecutors say the Killpacks caused Cassandra's death by forcing her to drink excess amounts of water after she was caught stealing her older sister's drink.

The Killpacks have said they were following advice from therapists at the Cascade Center for Family Growth in Orem when they administered the punishment.

Therapists have denied ever issuing such advice.

Attorneys for the Killpacks also have argued that the couple did not act recklessly and were unaware that their actions could harm the child.

The Cascade Center became the subject of national scrutiny after the Killpacks' allegations, mainly because some therapists there advocated the use of holding therapy, a practice that proponents argue helps children become emotionally attached to parents through sessions of tight physical contact.

The state disagreed and earlier this year ordered therapists to discontinue the practice.

An investigation by the Utah County Attorney's Office has cleared the Cascade Center and its therapists of any wrongdoing in the death of Cassandra Killpack.

Jury selection for the Killpack trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 12, and the trial is scheduled to run until Nov. 4.


E-mail: jtwitchell@desnews.com