HACIENDA NURSE Accused Of RAPING VEGETATIVE WOMAN
An Arizona nurse pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to raping a severely disabled woman, a crime that came to light when the victim unexpectedly gave birth in the long-term care facility where she has a patient for about two decades.
Nathan Sutherland, 36, wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists and legs, entered his plea at a brief arraignment hearing at the Maricopa County Superior Court. His next court appearance was set for March 19.
Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse who began working at Hacienda HealthCare Skilled Nursing Facility in Phoenix in 2012, faces one count each of sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult. He has been held on $500,000 bail since last month.
Police arrested Sutherland last month after investigators linked him to the case through DNA evidence after the woman, who is in her 20s, went into labor on Dec. 29 at Hacienda HealthCare.
Sutherland’s lawyer, Dave Gregan, said he would work to uphold his client’s “process rights.”
Gregan has said previously that there was no direct evidence against his client, who had no prior criminal history, and that the defense planned to conduct its own DNA tests.
Employees at the facility at the time said they didn’t know the victim was pregnant. Court records said her last known physical was in April.
The Dec. 29 birth triggered reviews by state agencies, highlighted safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated. The incident also prompted the resignations of Hacienda’s chief executive and one of the victim’s doctors.
The woman’s parents, through their attorney, have disputed characterizations that their daughter is comatose or in a vegetative state, according to the Associated Press. They described her as being intellectually disabled because of seizures in early childhood. While she doesn’t speak, she has some mobility in her limbs, head and neck. She also responds to sound and can make facial gestures.
“The important thing is that she is a beloved daughter, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities,” they said in a letter released to the media last month.
The facility said in a written statement that Sutherland was fired as soon as administrators learned of his arrest, and that he had undergone extensive background checks before being hired.
The baby, a boy who is being cared for by family members, is doing well, police have said.
Hacienda has since retained an Indiana-based company, Benchmark Human Services, to oversee operations at the nursing facility after Arizona regulators ordered the site placed under independent management.
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