Couple Tried in Daughter's Water Therapy Death

ByABC News via logo

Oct. 4, 2004 — -- A Utah couple is on trial for the death of their 4-year-old daughter who prosecutors say died after being forced by her adoptive parents to drink large quantities of water. The parents say they were utilizing a controversial therapy to help the mentally disturbed child.

As Cassandra Killpack lay dying on June 9, 2002, her father calmly called 911 for help.

"She has a lot of emotional problems, but to make a long story short, she had one of her temper tantrums today," Richard Killpack said. "We, um, needed to give her quite a bit of water. She threw up. And things were fine and then all of a sudden, she's just not there."

Cassandra died the following morning of water intoxication, which caused a fatal swelling of the brain.

Killpack and his wife, Jennete, of Springville, are charged with second degree felony child-abuse homicide. The couple, who have two other children, say they were merely administering a controversial type of therapy that is meant to bond children to parents.

"She was a beautiful 4-year-old and unfortunately she had a huge mental issue," Jennete Killpack told "Good Morning America" in 2002. "Anybody who has a child that struggles with a mental illness can understand that you do anything to help this child break through this mental illness."

The Killpacks adopted Cassandra when she was 20 months old, but testified that by the time she was 4, she turned violent toward her sibling, the pet cat and herself, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. She urinated over everything in the house, they said.

Cassandra was diagnosed with attachment disorder, and the Killpacks turned to the Cascade Center for Family Growth, which has since gone out of business. Here, the couple said, they were advised if Cassandra was caught sneaking food or water, they should give her what she wanted in "excess," according to the Tribune.

On June 9, 2002, Cassandra was caught sneaking sips of an older sibling's Kool-Aid. Killpack then allegedly tied Cassandra's arm behind her back and forced her to drink a fatal amount of water. A doctor testified last week that the girl had been made to ingest water "far in excess" of the body's need at least five hours before EMTs arrived at her home.

The couple, however, testified that they called 911 right after Cassandra collapsed.

The prosecution has called the family's closest friend who testified that the Killpacks didn't treat Cassandra like the other children. Witnesses say the girl lived in constant fear of her parents and was punished harshly for the smallest things, including being left to stand in a corner with her arms raised until she shook with fatigue.

A jury is expected to begin deliberating as early as next week.

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