A former paediatrician accused of waterboarding his girlfriend's daughter by holding her face under a faucet terrorised the girl for several years and exercised total control over her, a US prosecutor says.
In opening statements in the trial of Melvin Morse, deputy attorney general Melanie Withers portrayed Morse as a brutal and domineering "lord and master" of his household, abusing his stepdaughter for years while her mother acquiesced in silence.
Defence attorney Joseph Hurley told jurors that the girl and her mother, Pauline, have told many conflicting and false stories to authorities over the years and that the waterboarding charges are unfounded.
Hurley said Pauline Morse herself told investigators that the alleged waterboarding was nothing more than hair-washing, which the girl did not like, and that it was sometimes threatened as a form of punishment.
Melvin Morse, 60, has pleaded not guilty to child endangerment and assault charges.
He has specifically denied police claims that he may have been experimenting on the girl.
Morse has authored several books and articles on paranormal science and near-death experiences involving children.
He has appeared on shows such as Larry King Live and the The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss his research, which also has been featured on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries and in an article in Rolling Stone magazine.
The allegations of waterboarding came after Morse was accused of grabbing the girl by the ankle in July 2012 and, as her younger sister watched, dragging her across a gravel driveway.
He was arrested on misdemeanor endangerment and assault charges and released on bail.
When the girl, then 11, was subsequently interviewed, she 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 had called "waterboarding."