Sister tells of angry events prior to the death of girl, 4

Date: 2005-09-22

Salt Lake Tribune, The (UT)

Sister tells of angry events prior to the death of girl, 4
"Bad brain": The jury watches a video in which the witness, then a 7-year-old, tells a police detective of what she saw
Author: Stephen Hunt; The Salt Lake Tribune

In her little girl's voice, and with the help of a large teddy bear, Richard and Jennete Killpack's biological daughter told on video how her adopted sister came to die.

"She had a bad brain," the girl, then 7, told a Springville police detective in an interview videotaped on June 10, 2002, the day after 4-year-old Cassandra Killpack was allegedly forced to drink a lethal amount of water.

On Wednesday, a 4th District jury watched and listened as the girl explained that Cassandra had been born to a mother who "didn't give her a bottle or anything. She just left her on the street.

"It's kind of like Ethiopia, except it's South Carolina," added the girl.

The 7-year-old -- who, by court order, the news media must refer to as "H.K." -- was apparently trying to tell then-Springville police detective Dean Pettersson that Cassandra suffered from reactive attachment disorder, which occurs when babies fail to bond with their birth mother.

The Killpacks have said that Cassandra had the disorder, had not bonded with them either and was a disruptive, destructive child.

They also told police that counselors at the now-defunct Cascade Center for Family Growth recommended water therapy and said Cassandra should be encouraged to relive her infancy by crawling and drinking from a baby bottle while being held by her mother.

"She was supposed to be a baby for a while, 'cause she didn't get to be a baby," H.K. told Pettersson.

Cascade has denied it ever recommended water therapy to the Killpacks.

Charged with second-degree felony child-abuse homicide, the Killpacks allegedly forced the girl to drink large amounts of water as punishment for refusing the bottle or trying to sneak an unauthorized drink. Jennete Killpack told police Cassandra could handle 32 to 40 ounces of water.

Defense attorneys say the Killpacks -- who cooperated fully with police -- had no idea that drinking too much water could cause death.

On June 9, 2002, Cassandra got the treatment after sneaking a drink of juice from her 1-year-old sister's cup.

H.K. said she told Cassandra, "OK, you're going to have to go to Mom and do the drinking-water thing."

"She makes her drink till she pukes," H.K. told Pettersson, adding that she assisted her mother by getting a rope to tie Cassandra's hands behind her back because she was fighting the process.

At one point Cassandra slipped off the bar stool and hit her head on the floor, H.K. said.

When Richard Killpack came home, he held Cassandra's arms and tipped her head back while Jennete Killpack gave her water from "sippy cups," the girl said.

When Cassandra continued to fight, the Killpacks ordered her to jump, run and do pushups. But she became too "wobbly" to do the exercises and was sent to a corner for a "time out," H.K. said.

Soon after, Cassandra "puked all over the wall" and "all over the floor," H.K. said.

After cleaning up the vomit with a towel, Cassandra complained of a headache. She was told to "go potty" and then to bed, H.K. told the detective.

A short time later, Cassandra returned to the living room, sat down and would not get up. It was shortly after 8 p.m. when Richard Killpack called 911.

Cassandra was taken off life support about 6:30 a.m. the following day.

But pediatric radiologist Gary Hedlund said Cassandra was brain dead by 9 p.m., according to a CT-scan taken at the Utah Valley Hospital.

Hedlund testified he had never seen that degree of swelling occur in less than six to eight hours after a traumatic episode. But in Cassandra's case, there was no sign of a blow significant enough to cause brain swelling, Hedlund said.

Todd Grey, Utah's chief medical examiner, testified the girl's brain swelled due to low sodium levels caused by excessive water intake.

"It's the first case of water intoxication I've found," Grey said.

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