'Rebirthing' Therapist Denies Guilt

ByABC News
June 15, 2001, 2:33 PM

June 14 -- A psychotherapist convicted of reckless child abuse in death of a 10-year-old girl during a controversial therapy still insists the child's death was not her fault.

Connell Watkins will be sentenced on Monday. She faces up to 48 years in prison in the death of Candace Newmaker during a therapy known as "rebirthing."

In the procedure, the child was wrapped in a sheet and covered in pillows to recreate the experience of emerging from the womb.

Watkins, who says she has successfully performed the therapy on several patients, says Candace could have easily escaped from the pillows. "There was no weight on her, she can sit up," Watkins told ABC's 20/20 in an interview airing tonight. "She can stand up."

The therapy, according to its proponents, treats a condition called attachment disorder, which is a failure to trust and bond with parents or caregivers.

For court sketches of Candace's rebirthing, click here.

Troubled Child

Candace was born into poverty and spent much of her childhood in foster homes. When she was 6 years old, she was adopted by Jeane Newmaker, a pediatric nurse from a well-off family.

According to her adoptive mother, Candace was a child who raged uncontrollably, once attempting to set the house on fire. Candace spent years on medication and seeing psychologists, but Newmaker says the sessions often ended with her daughter biting and spitting at the therapists.

By Candace's 10th birthday, Newmaker concluded that her daughter suffered from attachment disorder. She traveled to Evergreen, Colo., where Watkins, an unlicensed therapist, ran her rebirthing clinic.

Watkins describes Newmaker as scared and exhausted. "She was afraid that she wasn't going to be able to hold on to her daughter much longer and she did not want to have to place her out of her home," Watkins said.

The Procedure

The rebirthing procedure took place on the morning of April 18, 2000, three days before Candace's therapy was set to end.

Watkins' assistant, Julie Ponder, told Candace to lie down in a fetal position on a blue flannel sheet. In the corner of the room a video camera recorded the session.