AT News
Archived Issue
Originally emailed 5 September 2003

Attachment Therapist’s Appeal Denied

One of the convicted killers of Candace Newmaker, Connell Watkins, has lost the appeal of her conviction. As a result, she will continue serving prison time until at least September 2012.

Watkins, and her co-defendant, Julie Ponder, were convicted in April 2001, for reckless child abuse resulting in the death of 10-year-old Candace Newmaker during an Attachment Therapy (AT) session a year earlier which gained notoriety for its involvement of “rebirthing.” Both women were sentenced to 16 years in prison. Under current penal guidelines in Colorado, neither will be eligible for parole until 2012.

Both appealed their convictions and sentences. A decision on Ponder’s case is still pending.

AT News reported last month, Watkins’s attorneys appealed her conviction and sentencing basically on two grounds upon which the Colorado court ruled:

First, that the trial judge did not allow the testimonials of previous clients to rebut prosecution experts who testified that “holding therapy” is without scientific basis and cannot be regarded as effective. The judge had said testimonials on effectiveness were irrelevant and would tend to confuse the jury as to the real issues in the trial; she did allow testimony where previous clients thought Watkins’s procedures were safe.

Second, that trying Watkins under the reckless child-abuse statute denied her the lesser sentencing options which would have been available had she been tried under other statutory provisions; as a result, she claims to have been denied equal protection under the law.

The first claim would have overturned the conviction and required a new trial, but the 3-judge panel unanimously ruled that the trial judge committed no error in excluding Watkins’s “lay witnesses”. In particular, the testimonials on the “effectiveness” of AT with other children would have “led to mini-trials concerning the medical conditions and courses of treatment of each of those children,” the court declared, adding, “The trial court acted well within its discretion in concluding that such evidence could distract the jury from its mission of deciding the critical issues of whether defendant’s actions in the rebirthing therapy were reckless and whether they caused the child’s death.”

The second claim would have overturned the sentencing and required a re-sentencing, leaving open the possibility for early parole or even probation. The original 16-year sentences were the minimum that could be given under the charged statute, and probation was not an option. Because of the nature of the statute violated, parole will not be considered until 70% of the sentence is served. Had she been convicted and sentenced under a similar statute, she could have been considered for parole after only 40% of the sentence is served. The court, however, rejected the appeal on the second claim because she did not raise it at the time of her sentencing.

Watkins has been serving her time in the women’s prison in Canon City, Colorado.

For those with MS Word, or a translator, the court’s decision can be downloaded from the Colorado Judiciary site.

Caution: links may have aged since this AT News was first emailed.