Nurse accused of raping patient in Arizona pleads not guilty

JACQUES BILLEAUD
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Nathan Sutherland, accused of raping and impregnating a patient at Hacienda HealthCare, is arraigned in Maricopa County Superior Court, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)

PHOENIX (AP) — A nurse facing criminal charges in the rape of an incapacitated woman who later gave birth at a long-term care facility in Phoenix pleaded not guilty Tuesday.

The only comments by Nathan Dorceus Sutherland came when he identified himself to the court and stated his birthdate. Afterward, Sutherland's attorney vowed a vigorous defense, but declined to answer questions from reporters.

Authorities say Sutherland, 36, was working at a licensed practical nurse at Hacienda Healthcare in Phoenix when he raped the 29-year-old victim, who has been in long-term care since age 3 after suffering a near-drowning.

She gave birth to a boy at the facility on Dec. 29. Employees said they had no idea she was pregnant.

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.

Investigators say Sutherland's DNA matched a sample from the woman's newborn boy, who is being cared for by her family.

Sutherland, who was shackled and carrying a legal pad during the arraignment hearing, pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual abuse and abuse of a vulnerable adult. He remains jailed on a $500,000 bond.

Hacienda fired Sutherland after his arrest. He has since given up his nursing license.

Sutherland attorney David Gregan said he'll make sure his client's constitutional rights are respected. "Mr. Sutherland, just as you and I are, is entitled to a full defense," Gregan said.

Gregan, who had previously said there is no direct evidence linking Sutherland to the crime, declined to comment on the DNA evidence prosecutors say they used to arrest his client.

Prosecutors asked a judge on Friday to order that Sutherland be tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. A judge hasn't yet ruled on the request.

An Arizona law says a person accused of sexual assault is subject to tests to determine whether they have a sexually transmitted disease. Such results are to be released to the victims.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.