AT News
Archived Issue
Originally emailed 23 December 2005

Mother Found Guilty in Death of Adopted Daughter

Girl Killed During Attachment Therapy ‘Intensive’

Over three years after Cassandra Killpack, age 4, of Springville, Utah, was killed by having a gallon or more of water poured down her throat, her adoptive parents, Jennete and Richard Killpack, were finally put on trial for child abuse-homicide. On October 11th, a jury convicted the mother, but reluctantly let the father off the hook. (Deseret News)

Cassandra was allegedly being treated for Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) at a notorious Attachment Therapy (AT) clinic in nearby Orem, Utah (
ACT victim page). She was killed at home over the weekend in the middle a “Two-Week Intensive.” During Intensives, AT therapists typically put children through a grueling round-the-clock cycle of Holding Therapy, bizarre psychodramas, and AT parenting methods. The latter often include the use of aversives and AT “paradoxical” techniques, such as requiring a child who sneaks food to gorge on such food (or eat nothing but that food for days). During the two weeks, children typically live with “therapeutic parents,” undergoing rigorous compliance training when not in “therapy,” but Cassandra was allowed to return home during her Intensive.

Testimony at trial suggested that Cassandra had been forced to drink a huge amount of water because she sneaked a sip from a sibling’s drink. Before trial, it had been publicly suggested by the Killpacks and their attorneys that such punishment had been approved by the Cascade Center for Family Growth where Cassandra was being treated. The Cascade’s principals denied the charge, claiming that prosecutors had cleared them of any wrongful involvement in the case.

Surprisingly, neither side called Cascade’s therapists to the witness stand during the trial, and the whole issue of Attachment Therapy was largely ignored. Instead, the defense appeared to rely ultimately on the usually ineffective blame-the-child strategy. After trying to raise some doubt about the cause of death, the defendants claimed, in effect, that Cassandra drove them to extremes with her difficult behavior.

The split verdict was agonized over in the jury room. According to interviews given shortly afterwards by several members of the jury (
Deseret News), jurors had little trouble determining the mother’s guilt, but couldn’t find a way to convict the father. They were convinced of Richard’s abuse of Cassandra, but didn’t think he was involved in forcing water on Cassandra, the direct cause of her death. They wished he had been charged with child abuse separately from homicide. “If [he] had been, the verdict would have been different. Richard Killpack would have been guilty of child abuse,” one declared.

Pending sentencing, four other children continue to live with Richard and Jennete Killpack.

The judge in the case will sentence Mrs Killpack on January 6th. She will receive a prison term of one to 15 years, though she could receive probation for all or part of her prison sentence. Indications in the press (
Deseret News) are that her lawyer will argue at sentencing that Cassandra drove her mother to extreme measures; he has faulted the probation department for not considering the impact that Cassandra’s diagnosis of RAD had on Jennete’s behavior. (Note that the official Reactive Attachment Disorder diagnosis is characterized by a child’s behavior being either withdrawn, or inappropriately friendly with strangers, hardly behaviors which could reasonably excuse homicide.)

A strong penalty for Jennete Killpack can send a message to many other adoptive and foster “Awesome Moms” in Utah and around the country who, much like her, have failed to extricate themselves from the AT cult. Today, many children continue to endure not only Holding Therapy (a/k/a Rage Reduction and Compression Therapy), but AT’s abusive parenting techniques based largely on humiliation, deprivation, excessive exercise, and isolation. Cassandra might still be alive if Jennete had rejected the harsh approach to parenting she found in the Nancy Thomas materials given to her by a known supporter of Cascade.

(For information about Nancy Thomas parenting methods, see
ACT webpage.)

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