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Potential jurors quizzed

Trial begins next week for couple accused in daughter's death

PROVO — The judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys are asking a lot of prospective jurors called for the trial of a Springville couple charged with child-abuse homicide.

Nearly 100 potential jurors filled out a 101-item questionnaire Tuesday morning as jury selection began in the cases of Richard and Jennete Killpack, who are accused of forcing their 4-year-old daughter Cassandra to drink more than half a gallon of water while punishing her in June 2002.

The trial is expected to last two months, beginning next week and extending into mid-November. The prospective jurors were told not to discuss the case with anyone, but the extended time commitment presents obvious problems for some of them, a fact inferred in the questionnaire:

"Will you suffer severe financial hardship if selected to serve as a juror for approximately eight weeks?"

"We are starting a rather lengthy process," 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock told the prospective jurors. "We realize this is a process that disturbs your daily lives, but it is an incredibly important civic duty. Without your assistance, defendants accused of crimes would not have an opportunity for a fair trial."

During the proceedings, defense attorney Shelden Carter introduced Richard Killpack, 37, and Jennete Killpack, 29, to the jury. The couple has claimed they were following advice from therapists at the controversial but now-defunct Cascade Center for Family Growth in Orem.

On June 9, 2002, paramedics responded to a 911 call from the Killpack home and found Cassandra Killpack on the floor with a swollen belly and pink foam spilling from her mouth. They testified during the preliminary hearing that the girl's breathing was shallow and sporadic and that they couldn't stop the pink foam.

"We gave her quite a bit of water," Richard Killpack said during the 911 call.

The reason, he said, was because Cassandra had misbehaved. "She's very, very sneaky," he added.

Cassandra had taken a younger sibling's drink. The Killpacks said the Cascade Center told them that if the girl, whom they had adopted when she was 20 months old, violated a drinking rule, she should be made to drink water until she was uncomfortable.

The prosecution alleges the Killpacks sent Cassandra's older sister, who was 7 at the time, to get some rope, then tied the 4-year-old's arms behind her back and forced her to drink 2 1/2 liters of water.

The autopsy showed the girl had a cut and bruises around her mouth and that she died of water intoxication, which meant she vomited water and breathed it into her lungs, causing severe lung damage. Her brain swelled until the normal wrinkled appearance disappeared and it was "squashed smooth" against the skull, testified Utah's chief medical examiner, Dr. Todd Grey.

After she was flown to a Salt Lake City hospital, Cassandra Killpack urinated and excreted large quantities of fluids, said Dr. Anne Moon, a pediatric critical care physician.

Springville Police detective Dean Pettersson testified that Richard Killpack told police the couple ignored the vomiting and choking because the girl had faked such things before.

Carter and the Killpacks declined requests for interviews outside the courtroom Tuesday because of a gag order imposed by the court. The couple pleaded not guilty on July 22, 2004.

The gag order is the result of intense national media attention. Prosecutors and the Killpacks appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" and NBC's "Today" show after charges were filed in September 2002.

The preliminary hearing lasted four days but took five months to complete because of legal wrangling. The Killpacks appealed one ruling to the Utah State Court of Appeals, but their claim was rejected.

The Cascade Center was the state's only provider of the controversial holding therapy. The center's director, Larry Van Bloem, died in a car accident in December 2004.

"These two cases have had some publicity," Laycock warned the prospective jurors Tuesday. "It will be very natural of people to want to inquire about what you've heard in the courtroom, even today. It is important you do not discuss this case with anyone. That includes your spouse, your children and your parents."

One-third of the potential jurors will return Monday for interviews with the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys. The next group second third will be interviewed Tuesday. If a jury isn't seated by that time, the final 28 juror prospects will be questioned next Wednesday. The trial might begin that day. It is scheduled to continue four days a week, taking Thursdays off, through Nov. 9.

The restrictions on discussing the case or ingesting media reports about it, Laycock told the potential jurors, "requires that you live somewhat in a vacuum. . . . It's as if you're living a separate, parallel life."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com