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Killpack admits she bit her child

PROVO — Cassandra Killpack didn't want any more water.

As her mother tried to force more past her clenched teeth, the 4-year-old began kicking and screaming.

Then she spit some water in her adoptive mother's face. Jennete Killpack snapped.

"I leaned over to bite her," Killpack said in a police interview on June 23, 2002, two weeks after her daughter's death. ". . . I put my teeth on her and started to bite down. And I thought, 'Oh no, I can't do this.' "

On Wednesday, prosecutors in the child-abuse homicide case played a videotape of that interview, as well as an interview between Richard Killpack and then-Springville Police investigator Dean Pettersson.

Prosecutors also called its final medical expert — Dr. Allen Arieff, a nephrologist who specializes in water intoxication. Arieff agreed with another doctor who testified Tuesday that Cassandra was forced to drink about one gallon of water.

That much water caused her brain to swell beyond the capacity of her skull, her lungs to fill with water and the sodium levels in her blood to drop to fatal levels. Cassandra died June 9, 2002.

"One can't drink that much water without becoming comatose or (having a seizure)," Arieff said. "It had to be forced."

In both police interviews jurors watched Wednesday, the Killpacks said they were only trying to help their daughter, who had been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, a mental illness.

Jennete Killpack said she came up with the water-discipline method from conversations with therapists, family members and a book by Nancy Thomas, a well-known advocate of holding therapy, a controversial form of therapy practiced by some therapists at Cascade Center for Family Growth.

The defense maintains the Killpacks learned the water-discipline technique at Cascade, which is now defunct. But during the taped interview Jennete Killpack said she first used water as a punishment a week before she first went to Cascade.

When she brought it up with a therapist there, she said she was encouraged to keep doing it.

She also said much of the clinic's therapy, which was directed by a self-described pastor who had no license to practice in Utah, involved pushing the girl to her limits. On one occasion, she said, Cascade therapists made Cassandra kick a wall 100 times, and if she stopped she was forced to jump up and down. The girl was drenched in sweat by the end of the session and near dehydration, her mother said.

"These people pushed my daughter, and if I would've been smart enough I would've stopped it," she said.

In the interview, Richard Killpack also blamed Cascade for his daughter's death, as well as Primary Children's Medical Center and the paramedics who first arrived to treat her.

He acknowledged that mistakes were made — including an incident three months before in which his wife hit Cassandra in the head with a spoon and drew blood — but that the girl did not die from anything they had done.

"The bottom line is we were not responsible for her death. The answer was not taking her to Cascade," he said in the police interview.

According to Killpack's own research, the girl died from heat exhaustion and dehydration as a result of intensive therapy at Cascade.

But Arieff, Wednesday's medical expert, said that was not the case, and that there was nothing doctors did that worsened Cassandra's condition.

"Before anybody did much of anything, she was gone," he said.

The prosecution will call its final witness Friday. The defense is expected to rest Oct. 14.


E-mail: jhyde@desnews.com