Man who sexually assaulted incapacitated woman at Hacienda Healthcare to serve 10 years in prison

A man who sexually assaulted an incapacitated woman who later gave birth at a long-term care facility in Phoenix was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Dec. 2.

Nathan Sutherland pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and vulnerable adult abuse charges on Sept. 2. Back in May, he lost a bid to throw out DNA evidence that investigators say tied him to the sexual assault.

Prior to sentencing, it was expected that Sutherland's sentence will range from 5 to 10 years and a lifetime of probation instead of a maximum of 14 years behind bars, after making a plea deal. In addition to the 10 years in prison, Sutherland will also have to register as a sex offender, and will serve a lifetime probation.

Following the ruling, Hacienda Healthcare's current CEO, Perry Petrilli, released a statement that reads:

Sutherland spoke in court

"I didn’t realize I was capable of such an evil and disturbing act," said Sutherland, who was hoping to get sympathy from a judge.

Born in Haiti, Sutherland said he was neglected by his mother, as well as sexually assaulted at an orphanage. That hatred and bitterness, according to Sutherland, led to depression and drugs as an adult.

"That caused me eventually act inappropriately to my pain torment and therefore commit that evil act," Sutherland said.

The victim's family did not speak in court, nor did they speak to members of the media who were outside.

Sutherland, however, spoke for more than 10 minutes, but only briefly apologized to the victim and her family.

"To the victim, I am very sorry. You do not deserve to be hurt. No matter what was going on in my personal life and the demons I was fighting. I had no right to do that. No words can express our painfully sorry I am. I am sincerely sorry," Sutherland said.

Scandal unfolded in 2018

The pregnancy was discovered in December 2018 when an employee at Hacienda Healthcare was changing the garments of the then-29-year-old victim and noticed she was in the process of delivering a child. Employees told police that they had no idea the woman was pregnant.

She lived at Hacienda for 26 years, until the child’s birth. Her medical conditions stem from a brain disorder that caused motor and cognitive impairments and vision loss. She was also left with no functional use of her limbs.

Continuing coverage: Hacienda HealthCare Investigation

Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse, was fired by Hacienda after his arrest and has since given up his nursing license.

Police said Sutherland’s DNA matched a sample taken from the woman’s son. The victim’s mother is the boy’s guardian.

Scandal spurred review of facility by state agencies

The surprise birth triggered reviews by state agencies, highlighted safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated and prompted the resignations of Hacienda’s chief executive and one of the victim’s doctors.

It led to a lawsuit from the victim’s parents that alleged Sutherland had cared for their daughter on hundreds of occasions from 2012 through 2018, despite promises from the state — which contracts with companies like Hacienda to provide services to people with developmental disabilities — that only women would tend to her. An expert on behalf of her family has said many of Sutherland’s encounters with the patient occurred overnight, when fewer staff members and visitors were around.

Lawyers for the family also said Hacienda missed dozens of signs that the woman was carrying a baby, pointing out that she had gained weight, had a swollen belly and missed menstrual periods in the months before the child was born. They said the victim, who has a feeding tube and whose nutrition was reduced in response to her weight gain during the pregnancy, delivered the boy while severely dehydrated and without pain medications.

A judge has approved a $15 million settlement against a doctor who cared for the woman for 26 years while she lived at Hacienda Healthcare. The doctor’s insurer has argued it has no obligation to pay that amount.

Following the scandal, the former CEO of Hacienda Healthcare stepped down from his position. On Sept. 2, the current Hacienda CEO issued a statement on the latest development, stating:

The state of Arizona, which contracts with companies like Hacienda to provide services to people with developmental disabilities, settled last summer for $7.5 million.

Legal expert speaks out

Russ Richelsoph, a criminal defense attorney, says many felony cases similar to this case don't make it to trial because of plea deals.

"You know, the reason why a defendant would take a plea agreement rather than going to trial is usually, they get something in exchange," said Richelsoph. He is not connected to this case.

Back in May, Sutherland lost a bid to throw out DNA evidence that investigators say tied him to the sexual assault.

"Once that was litigated and the judge decided that ‘no, the DNA evidence is going to be allowed in, and the jury will hear it,’ you know that's definitely a factor in deciding whether or not to take a plea agreement," said Richelsoph.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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