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Dan Lund, for the Deseret News
Jennete Killpack

The Utah Supreme Court has upheld a child abuse homicide conviction of a Springville woman who fatally force fed her 4-year-old daughter four quarts of water.

In October 2005, a jury found Jennete Killpack guilty of child abuse homicide and acquitted her husband, Richard Killpack, in the death of the couple's daughter, Cassandra, on June 9, 2005. Killpack received a sentence of one to 15 years in prison, but appealed the ruling raising five issues, including arguments that the jury was not properly instructed and the court improperly admitted evidence detailing Killpack's history of abusing Cassandra.

An opinion handed down by Supreme Court Associate Chief Matthew Durrant upheld the lower court's ruling in the case and ruled against Killpack's five points of contention.

"The evidence of Killpack's prior abuse of Cassandra was properly allowed ... because it was relevant to a proper, noncharacter purpose and it did not pose a danger of unfair prejudice that substantially outweighed its probative value," Durrant wrote in his opinion.

In July 1999, Killpack and her husband adopted 21-month-old Cassandra. She soon developed behavioral problems, including refusing to eat, hoarding food and urinating at inappropriate times. The Killpacks consulted a psychologist who diagnosed Cassandra with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Another specialist confirmed the diagnosis and recommended the Killpacks implement treatment ideas from a book that suggests parents could cure a child's misbehavior by having the child repeat a particular misbehavior "in excess."

Killpack responded to Cassandra's misbehavior by "severely disciplining" the child, including hitting her with a spoon, backhanding her, choking her because she would not eat, force feeding her, biting her and forcing her to drink water until "she spit up and urinated uncontrollably."

On June 9, 2007, Killpack caught Cassandra sneaking a drink of Kool-Aid. Killpack forced Cassandra to drink water until she refused to drink anymore. Then Killpack tied her hands behind her and forced her to drink more. Richard Killpack came home and his wife enlisted his help by having him hold Cassandra's arms while she forced the child to drink more.

The Killpacks then made Cassandra do exercise, including running, jumping and doing sit-ups. The child vomited and reported she couldn't keep her legs from shaking and her head hurt. She later collapsed, lost consciousness and was taken to a hospital.

Doctors declared Cassandra dead the next morning. They said her symptoms pointed to being forced to drink an excessive amount of water. Medical experts testified she had been forced to drink more than four quarts of water.

A jury found Killpack guilty of child abuse homicide, but she appealed the decision, raising five issues:

• Whether the jury was properly instructed on the meaning of acting "recklessly."

• Whether the trial court properly rejected jury instruction that child abuse homicide cannot result from injuries inflicted by a parent if those injuries are caused by the parent's a) reasonable child care choices or b) reasonable treatment of the child's medical condition.

• Whether the trial court properly admitted evidence of Killpack's prior bad acts.

• Whether the trial court committed cumulative error warranting the reversal of Killpack's conviction.

• Whether the trial court abused its discretion during sentencing by refusing to grant Killpack's request for probation.

The Supreme Court ruled against all Killpack's issues of appeal, and upheld the trial court's sentence of one to 15 years in prison. Durrant echoed the trial court's opinion when it stated it "greatly fear(ed) that (Cassandra) suffered far more than we will ever understand."

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