DOVER — A woman who lived with a Sussex County pediatrician accused of waterboarding her 11-year-old daughter agreed Friday to plead guilty to child endangerment charges and testify against him.
In accepting a plea offer from prosecutors, Pauline Morse agreed to plead guilty to three misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child and to cooperate with prosecutors and testify against Dr. Melvin Morse.
Melvin Morse, 59, has written a best-selling book and achieved national recognition for his research into near-death experiences involving children. Police suggested in an affidavit that he may have been experimenting on the girl last year, a claim he denies.
A trial for Melvin Morse is scheduled to start June 10. Dr. Morse and his attorney, Joe Hurley, did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment Friday.
A spokesman for the attorney general’s office had no immediate comment.
Pauline Morse, 41, was scheduled to formally enter her plea at a court hearing Monday in Georgetown. Sentencing guidelines call for up to a year in prison, suspended for up to 1 year of probation, and a fine of up to $2,300.
The couple lived together as husband and wife, even though they were divorced several years ago. The 11-year-old girl was Pauline Morse’s daughter from a previous relationship, even though Dr. Morse has claimed in the past that he is her father.
The allegations of waterboarding surfaced after Melvin Morse was accused of grabbing the 11-year-old by the ankle last July and, as her 6-year-old sister watched, dragging her across a gravel driveway. He was arrested on misdemeanor endangerment and assault charges and released on bail.
The charges were revised after the older girl told investigators that Melvin Morse also had disciplined her by holding her face under a running faucet at least four times since 2009, a punishment she said he called “waterboarding.’’
Waterboarding simulates drowning and has been used in the past by U.S. interrogators on terrorism suspects. Many critics call it torture.
Police said Pauline Morse, who was initially charged with felony endangerment and conspiracy, witnessed the “waterboarding’’ and did nothing to stop it. Her two daughters were taken into state custody, but she has been allowed visitation and is working to try to regain custody of them.
“My client’s main objective is getting the children back,’’ said Dean Johnson, a public defender representing Pauline Morse. “She’s not going to get them back until these matters are resolved. She needs to get this behind her.’’
Mr. Johnson said Pauline Morse has “totally changed’’ compared to when he first met her. He said she has grown from “somewhat of a 'Sad Sack’ personality’’ who was easily manipulated by others into a more self-confident person able to make decisions on her own.
“She has independence of thought... whereas before Melvin made the decisions and she went along,’’ he said.
Following his arrest Melvin Morse, whose medical license has been suspended, was charged with conspiracy and five felony counts of endangerment. Prosecutors later dropped the conspiracy charge, which involved Pauline Morse, but added four new endangering counts and one count of misdemeanor assault.