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CANDACE NEWMAKER: Death Through "Rebirthing" Therapy

Candace Newmaker, 10, died in April 2000 while undergoing what is called "rebirthing" therapy. It's a practice in which a person, after a certain amount of preparation, goes through a re-enactment of birth in order to emotionally bond with a parent. Trained therapists cover the individual in a sheet and hold the person with pillows with enough resistance to make the experience more realistic.

In Candace's case, the therapists and their assistants held the girl too tight for too long until she died.

Her death has led the state of Colorado to ban the use of "rebirthing" therapies.

October 18: U.S. Senate Urges States To Ban "Rebirthing" Therapies
March 25: Childs, Lobato, And Newmaker Cases Criss-Cross In Denver
February 24: Sixteen Year Sentence To Stick For "Rebirthing" Therapist Convicted In Newmaker Death
February 28: Cheers Again To 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation'
March 05: Utah Looks To Ban "Holding Therapies"
October 9: Aides In Candace Newmaker's "Rebirthing" Death Get Probation
June 20: Therapists Receive Lightest Sentence in 'Rebirthing' Death
February 15: Candace's Law Stops Short of Banning Restraints

Candace's Law Stops Short of Banning Restraints
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 15, 2001

DENVER, COLORADO--In response to the restraint-related death of a 10-year-old girl last April, a state House committee has voted to approve a bill that would ban the specific "rebirthing" therapy used on her, but would not ban the use of restraints on children.

"Candace's Law", the proposed measure named for Candace Newmaker, was approved on Monday by the House Health, Environment, Welfare and Institutions Committee. Representative Debbie Stafford, who is sponsoring the bill, rejected a suggestion that it include a provision outlawing all restraints on children. Stafford said she wanted this bill to be enacted soon, so more children would not risk being hurt during "rebirthing" or "holding" therapies, and that adding a restraint ban would take much more study and work.

Candace Newmaker died last April 19, a day after she had gone through a "rebirthing" session. Her adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker, brought her from North Carolina to Colorado to go through the therapy. The treatment was meant to simulate the birthing process, so the girl could experience being "reborn" and then bond emotionally with her adoptive mother.

Investigators say that during the session, Candace was curled up in a fetal position on the floor and wrapped in a flannel sheet. With her mother present during much of the session, therapists and attendants held Candace with pillows while encouraging her to fight her way out to become "reborn".

A videotape of the 70-minute session, recorded that Candace told therapists 13 times that she was having trouble breathing or felt she was going to die. When the sheet was unwrapped, the girl had no pulse and was not breathing. She died the next day.

"The amount of time from what is believed to be Candace Newmaker's last breath heard on the videotape to the time that she was unwrapped is 20 minutes," a sheriff's official said.

The two therapists and their assistants have been charged with felony child abuse in the case. If convicted, they could receive up to 48 years in prison.

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Therapists Receive lightest Sentence in 'Rebirthing' Death
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 20, 2001

GOLDEN, COLORADO -- On Monday, District Court Judge Jane Tidball handed down a 16-year sentence to two therapists involved in the April 18, 2000 suffocation death of a 10-year-old girl. The sentence was the shortest allowed. Each could have received up to 48 years in prison.

Connell Watkins, 54, and Julie Ponder, 40, were convicted on April 20 of this year for "reckless child abuse resulting in death" in the death of Candace Newmaker during what was called a "rebirthing" session.

Jeane Newmaker, the girl's adoptive mother, testified that she had not been able to control Candace -- who was diagnosed with a number of learning disabilities and mental illnesses -- almost immediately after the adoption. She brought Candace from their North Carolina home to Watkins & Associates in Evergreen, Colorado to undergo two weeks of intensive treatment designed to help Candace emotionally bond with her adoptive mother.

The "rebirthing" session itself was supposed to symbolize a live birth. Therapists simulated a mother's womb by wrapping Candace from head to toe in a cotton sheet, then placing pillows around her. Then therapists and other staff members leaned into the pillows, while Candace was to fight her way out, much like a baby would in a real birth.

During the three week trial, jurors watched a video-tape of the one-hour session. In spite of her screams saying that she could not breathe, that she needed to use the bathroom, and that she had vomited on herself, the therapists would not release Candace. They also mistook her lack of struggling as a lack of cooperation.

On April 17, 2001, three days before the jury handed down the guilty verdicts in the case, Colorado Governor Bill Owens signed Candace's Law, a measure outlawing future rebirthing therapy. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum sentence, to send a message to other mental health professionals who may still be using this risky treatment method.

These articles are from the Denver Post On-line:

June 19, 2001: "'Rebirth' therapists get 16 years"

June 20, 2001: "Editorial: Therapists get off easy"

April 21, 2001: "Therapists guilty in fatal 'rebirth'-- Ponder, Watkins facing prison in girl's death"

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Aides In Candace Newmaker's "Rebirthing" Death Get Probation
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 9, 2001

GOLDEN, COLORADO--Two aides that participated in the April 2000 "rebirthing" therapy death of 10-year-old Candace Newmaker, will not have to serve prison time for their involvement.

Brita St. Clair and Jack McDaniel, a married couple that worked for the therapists who directed the girl's fatal session, were sentenced Thursday to 10 years probation and 1,000 hours of community service after opting for a plea bargain.

Candace, who had been diagnosed with a number of learning disabilities and mental illnesses, was undergoing a "rebirthing" session, a re-enactment of her birth in order to emotionally bond with a parent. Trained therapists covered her in a sheet and held her with pillows, providing enough resistance to make the experience more realistic.

But the therapists involved ignored the girl's cries and pleas to be released. When they unwrapped the sheet 70 minutes later Candace was unconscious and not breathing. She died the next day.

In June of this year the unlicensed therapists, Julie Ponder and Connell Watkins, were each sentenced to 16 years in prison. Candace's mother, Jeane Newmaker, is scheduled to go to trial next month on the same charges for her involvement during the session.

Friday's Rocky Mountain News ran this story:

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