A former nurse at Hacienda Healthcare in Phoenix, Arizona, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for raping and impregnating a 29-year-old woman in a vegetative state.
38-year-old Nathan Sutherland was given his punishment on Thursday, which includes lifetime probation once he’s out of prison, after pleading guilty to sexual abuse and vulnerable adult abuse charges back in September.
The pregnancy was discovered back in December of 2018 when an employee at the Hacienda Healthcare facility in Phoenix was changing the garments of the now 32-year-old victim and noticed the patient was in the process of delivering a child. Employees told police that they had no idea the woman was pregnant.
‘I didn’t realize I was capable of such an evil and disturbing act,’ Sutherland claimed Thursday in court.
Sutherland blamed being sexually assaulted at an orphanage and neglected by his mother, which he said caused him to ‘act inappropriately’ and ‘commit that evil act.’
The former Hacienda nurse was given the harshest sentence he could have gotten after taking a ‘slap on the wrist’ plea deal in September after pleading guilty to the crime.
The victim’s family requested Sutherland receive the harshest sentence, but they did not speak in court or to the media outside the courthouse.
The judge took into account the more than 1,000 days already served by Sutherland following his arrest in December 2018 and it has been deducted from his 10-year term, according to Fox 10.
Sutherland briefly spoke to the victim in his statement, expressing ‘sincere’ remorse for his actions.
‘To the victim, I am very sorry. You do not deserve to be hurt,’ he said in court Thursday.
‘No matter what was going on in my personal life and the demons I was fighting. I had no right to put you through that. No words can express how painfully sorry I am. I am sincerely sorry.’
Police have said Sutherland’s DNA matched a sample taken from the woman’s son, who will turn three later in December and is being cared for by the victim’s mother.
The victim 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.
It is unknown where the victim is now or if she is in another facility.
‘It’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable adult than the victim in this case,’ Superior Court Judge Margaret LaBianca said, adding that Sutherland exploited his position of trust as a caregiver to sexually abuse the victim.
The surprise birth triggered reviews by state agencies and highlighted safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated.
Following the reviews, resignations were handed in by Hacienda’s Chief Executive Bill Timmons and one of the victim’s doctors, who was not named.
Sutherland was fired from his job and voluntarily surrendered his nursing license after his arrest.
The victim’s parents sued after alleging Sutherland had cared for their daughter on many 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.
The judge also approved a $15 million settlement with one of the victim’s doctors, but the physician’s insurer argued there’s no obligation to pay it.
The state of Arizona settled with the family last summer for $7.5 million.
Hacienda released a statement following Sutherland’s sentencing Thursday, writing: ‘We are relieved that he will never again torment another innocent human being.
‘As they have been since the moment we learned of Sutherland’s terrible actions, our thoughts and hearts are with the victim, the victim’s family and loved ones. We hope this last chapter of the Sutherland case brings them all greater peace.’