Former Georgetown pediatrician Melvin Morse was sentenced to three years in prison plus probation for waterboarding his stepdaughter.
Gray-haired and clean-shaven, Morse asked Delaware Superior Court Judge Richard Stokes for leniency. Morse apologized to his stepdaughter, who attended at the April 11 sentencing hearing, and said he was sad and devastated for the pain he caused her. He asked her to forgive him.
“I have caused immeasurable suffering. I’m sorry,” Morse said.
Deputy Attorney General Casey Ewart was unmoved; she sought the maximum five-year prison sentence. Ewart said Morse was known as a respected pediatrician in his professional life, who knew how to take care of children. However, that did not extend into his private life, she said, where Morse tortured his stepdaughter by holding her face under running water.
“He was supposed to protect her from harm, not inflict it,” Ewart said.
She called witnesses who described the child as easily startled and still suffering from flashbacks.
Dee Davis of Delaware Division of Family Services, said Morse’s stepdaughter, now 12, was a fearful child when she ran away from home on July 13, 2012, a day after Morse dragged her across a gravel driveway; it was the child's running away that launched the police investigation leading to Morse's conviction. Davis said the child developed issues trusting people and deserves to live her life in peace.
Child psychologist Cathy Rose said she has been providing therapy for Morse’s stepdaughter since August 2012. Morse was convicted of waterboarding the girl, but Rose said that was just the tip of the iceberg in four years of abuse. She said Morse’s abuse was calculated, manipulative and constant. Rose said the victim, who has been in foster care, wanted Morse to go to prison.
Rose testified Morse’s stepdaughter struggles with post-traumatic stress, is easily startled, anxious and has flashbacks. She said the child is vulnerable to substance abuse and abusive relationships.
Ewart said until the April 11 sentencing, Morse had shown zero remorse and had not apologized to his stepdaughter. Ewart said Morse’s attorney, Joseph Hurley, had blamed Morse’s behavior on bipolar disorder, but his condition only seemed to extend to the home. She described Morse as a narcissist, concerned only with how the charges affected him.
Morse’s sister, Gail, spoke in support of her brother, saying he understands what he has done, has taken steps to get help and has become a better person in the last year-and-a-half since his July 2012 arrest.
Morse was convicted of first and second-degree reckless endangerment of a child, with the difference, Stokes said, being the risk of injury or death. The first-degree charge carried a prison sentence of 15 months to five years. Morse was acquitted on a charge of suffocating his stepdaughter. His companion, Pauline Morse, mother of the victim, was also charged but accepted a plea deal and testified against him.
Weighing the sentence, Stokes said Morse was highly intelligent and sophisticated with extensive pediatric knowledge.
“He knows how to treat children,” Stokes said.
In addition to prison time, Stokes sentenced Morse probation and community service after his jail sentence. He was ordered to have no contact with the stepdaughter or his own daughter or with their mother, Pauline Morse.
Hurley attempted two motions to try to keep his client from prison. First, he moved to stay execution of the sentence while Morse undergoes treatment for recently diagnosed prostate cancer. Stokes denied the motion, saying Morse could get treatment under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.
Second, Hurley attempted to raise procedural doubts about the jury instructions before rendering a verdict. Stokes again denied the motion, saying the jury was properly instructed.
The hearing formally ended with Morse being led away in handcuffs by Capital Police.
Ewart appeared in court in place of the lead prosecutor in the case, Melanie Withers, who was ill.