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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Richard and Jennete Killpack react to testimony during their preliminary hearing on Wednesday in 4th District Court in Provo.

PROVO — Like any well-mannered 7-year-old, Cassandra Killpack's sister didn't hesitate to obey her mother's orders to retrieve a piece of rope.

On that day, June 9, 2002, the obedient sibling delivered the cords to her mom not knowing they would be used to bind 4-year-old Cassandra's arms as she was given a fatal amount of water.

Watching her sister be forced to consume so much water that her brain started to swell is not a form of abuse inflicted upon the 7-year-old under the law.

Doling out an estimated 2 quarts of water to a 4-year-old child who stole some juice from a sibling, however, may indeed be murder.

"It is distressing to hear all that has happened" to Cassandra Killpack's sister, said 4th District Court Judge James Taylor in court on Wednesday. "We have not done well by her, and by 'we' I mean everyone."

Still, Taylor decided to drop a charge of third-degree child abuse against Jennete and Richard Killpack, Cassandra's adoptive parents.

Taylor said proof of severe emotional trauma required to pursue the child-abuse charge — filed because the girl witnessed Cassandra's death — was not adequately proven by Utah County prosecutors during a preliminary hearing.

But he did find sufficient evidence to require the couple to stand trial on a charge of second-degree child abuse homicide for Cassandra's water-intoxication death.

"The Killpacks knew what was in store for Cassandra," said prosecutor David Sturgill.

"They had seen it before. They had seen the discomfort of ingesting a large amount of water. They had seen throwing up. They had seen the pain."

The details of Cassandra's last hours alive did not figure prominently at Wednesday's proceedings like they had in previous courtroom hearings.

The hearing to determine if prosecutors had enough evidence to take the case to trial had been halted on two occasions to work out legal issues.

Details about medical records were discussed in a closed portion of the hearing.

Also on Wednesday, descriptions of Cassandra Killpack's therapy sessions at the Cascade Center for Family Growth in Orem dominated testimony.

The owners of the therapy center testified. Keith Alvin Reber, a Cascade Center employee, also was asked questions about the girl's visits to Cascade.

Reber, who had his therapist license revoked by Oregon officials last July for "egregious and reprehensible" therapy practices, testified that he screened Cassandra Killpack for reactive-attachment disorder, but did not treat her personally.

"My job was not to do therapy. My job was to provide support," Reber said.

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Reber denies giving the couple instructions on giving excessive punishments for bad behavior. But the Killpacks contend that Cascade therapists recommended the discipline measure they employed — binding her hands and making her guzzle water — on the day Cassandra died.

That part, prosecutors say, is the real issue that deserves a trial.

"The result of this incident was the death of a child," said Sherry Ragan, a Utah County prosecutor. "The result of it is that Cassandra died."


E-mail: lwarner@desnews.com