Court hears taped Killpack interview

He blames clinic for actions that led to daughter's death

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 27 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Attorney Mike Esplin, Jennete Killpack, attorney Sheldon Carter and Richard Killpack sit in court Monday.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Richard Killpack was at his wits end.

His 4-year-old daughter was scaring him and baffling the family therapist. The little girl was smearing feces on the walls, ripping holes in her clothes and refusing to sleep.

"Your child has extreme psychotic tendencies," Killpack says the therapist told him.

Not knowing what else to do, Richard and Jennete Killpack say they took their daughter to the Cascade Center for Family Growth, a controversial Orem therapy clinic, on May 23, 2003.

It was at the clinic, which has since closed, that the Killpacks say they learned an unorthodox form of punishment that ultimately led to their daughter's death.

That's what Richard Killpack told a Springville police investigator during a June 19, 2003, videotaped interview.

On Monday in 4th District Court, Utah County prosecutors played the tape, in which Killpack explains how he and his wife desperately tried to help their daughter battle hidden mental health problems that first worried and then horrified them.

Shortly after the couple adopted Cassandra in 1999, Killpack said he and his wife saw "signs and symptoms of things we couldn't explain" in the 2-year-old girl.

Cassandra would often get a glazed look, or "zone out," he said, and stop talking. She would also refuse to eat or hold food in her mouth for hours.

Killpack said a therapist diagnosed the girl with attachment disorder, a mental illness in which a child does not bond to his or her parents, most often the mother. The disorder most often affects adopted children.

Killpack said the therapist used conventional treatment methods that were ultimately unsuccessful. When he suggested the Killpacks put their daughter on medication, they refused. Finally, the therapist gave up.

"He said he was done and couldn't do it anymore," Killpack said.

To help Cassandra feel more comfortable in their family, Killpack said he and his wife adopted another black baby. The plan backfired.

"She hated her. She would walk by and slap her," Killpack said. "She would take food out of her mouth."

Cassandra started staying up all night and rolling around in her own urine. She also kicked her older sister in the head.

"We were freaking out," he said. "We didn't know what to do anymore."

Killpack said a friend referred them to Cascade. Therapists there seemed to understand exactly what he and his wife were going through.

"I thought this is it. These guys got it," he said.

After meeting with Cassandra, a Cascade therapist told the Killpacks the girl would need intensive therapy: three-hour sessions, five days a week. Without their brand of therapy, Cassandra would kill herself or someone else.

"Our goal is to teach her emotion," Killpack said a therapist told him. "We do that by teaching anger."

Killpack said the therapist then showed the couple how to help their daughter: by holding her down and inciting her by tickling or screaming at her, inches from her face, until she started crying or yelling back. By forcing their daughter to verbally express her anger, the Killpacks would help her break down emotional barriers.

Afterward, Jennete would hold and soothe the girl, forging a bond.

"When we got in the van, my wife said, 'I don't feel comfortable doing that. I won't do that,' " Killpack said.

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