DOVER, Del. — A Delaware pediatrician who achieved national recognition for his research into near-death experiences involving children may have been experimenting on his 11-year-old stepdaughter by waterboarding her, police said in court documents.
The possible link between Dr. Melvin Morse’s research and the waterboarding allegations was revealed in an affidavit for a search warrant for Morse’s computers. The document was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
According to the affidavit, Dr. Morse brought the girl “to a possible near death state from the simulation of drowning.”
“This ‘waterboarding’ that he has performed … would fall into the area of study he practices,” police said in the affidavit. “It is logical that he has therefore written about and/or researched the topic of ‘waterboarding.’“
Joe Hurley, an attorney for Morse, said the idea that Morse was experimenting on his own daughter is “the sheerest of speculation.”
Morse, who faces a preliminary hearing Thursday on felony child endangerment and conspiracy charges, has authored several books and articles on paranormal science and near-death experiences.
He has appeared on “Larry King Live” and the “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to discuss his research on out-of-body experiences. His Web website is strewn with commentary about God, love, family and death.
Morse told AP in a telephone interview Monday that the charges against him are an overreaction from authorities who were criticized in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving another pediatrician.
Morse said he is the victim of “post-Bradley hysteria,” a reference to pediatrician Earl Bradley, who was convicted a year ago and is serving 14 life sentences for sexually abusing scores of his young patients over more than a decade.
Following Bradley’s arrest in December 2009, state officials ordered investigations into how he was allowed to continue practicing medicine for years despite suspicions that he was molesting his patients. Lawmakers passed several new laws toughening requirements for police, health care workers and others to report suspected child abuse.
The allegations of waterboarding came after Morse was accused of grabbing his 11-year-old stepdaughter by the ankle in July and, as her 6-year-old sister watched, dragging her across a gravel driveway. He was arrested July 13 on misdemeanor endangerment and assault charges and released on bail.
When the older girl was interviewed last week, she told investigators that her father disciplined her by holding her face under a running faucet at least four times since 2009, a punishment that she said her father called “waterboarding.”
Waterboarding simulates drowning and it has been used in the past by U.S. interrogators on terrorism suspects. Many critics call it torture.
State police said the girl’s mother, Pauline Morse, witnessed some of the waterboarding but did not stop it. She is also out on bail.
Melvin and Pauline Morse were both charged with felony child endangerment and conspiracy.
“All of these things are very absurd, except that Delaware has really had the trauma (of Bradley),” Morse told the AP.
Morse, 58, ended the interview before he could be asked directly about the waterboarding allegations.
Hurley, the attorney for Morse, has raised doubts about the girl’s claims. He has described the waterboarding description as an “attention-getter” by authorities, based on an allegation from an 11-year-old who he said had made a false abuse claim against a family member before.
“I have no doubt but that the Bradley phenomenon has its fingerprints all over the sensationalization of this situation,” Hurley said.
State officials suspended Morse’s medical license after his arrest last week.
Morse, who was released from custody Friday after posting $14,500 secured bail, claimed he was “the first doctor to blow the whistle on Earl Bradley.”
Morse said he warned state officials in 2007 that Bradley was using saline solution to give fake vaccines to his patients, though state officials said they never received a report from Morse until after Bradley was arrested in 2009.
“I reported that, and I’m the only Delaware physician who had the courage to testify for the Bradley victims,” said Morse, claiming that he gave a deposition in the Bradley case.