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Albemarle doctor found guilty of sexual assault

A jury has found a former Albemarle County pain doctor guilty of sexual assault following years of legal delays and an emotionally fraught, week-long trial.

Dr. Mark Hormuz Dean was first arrested in January 2018 after being accused of sexual assault by several women who were his patients at Albemarle Pain Management Associates. The assaults were alleged to have happened between 2011 and 2017.

The cases have been separated, meaning Dean will likely face multiple trials.

In his first trial, Dean faced a single count of object sexual penetration stemming from a May 2017 interaction with one of his female patients that was reported to police in the fall of 2020.

The trial wrapped up Friday afternoon and, after around two-and-a-half hours of deliberations, the jury returned guilty verdict Friday evening.

Upon hearing the verdict, Dean, who had been poised and stoic throughout the trial, slumped in his chair, a distant stare on his face.

Dean, who has been out on bail for the last four years, was immediately remanded to the jail where he will remain as he awaits sentencing on Aug. 31. According to sentencing guidelines, Dean faces a minimum prison term of five years and a maximum of life.

The trial centered on accusations from a woman identified by the initials ES, who said Dean used his fingers to penetrate her vagina without her consent during a May 2017 appointment. The defense has spent the bulk of the trial working to undermine her testimony, focusing primarily on three return visits ES made to Dean and his office.

The case was complicated by testimony from another accuser, identified by the initials AS, who shared her similar experience with Dean but whose testimony was not directly related to the charge Dean was facing.

After spending more than an hour finalizing jury instructions, the parties offered closing arguments Friday in Albemarle Circuit Court, hoping to sway the jurors to their side.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Farley walked the jurors through the case again, taking time to discuss each piece of evidence he believed was persuasive of Dean’s guilt. Although the jurors could not consider AS’s testimony as evidence of Dean’s guilt, Farley said they could consider how closely both women’s testimony matched, citing more than a dozen examples.

“This case comes down to whether you believe [ES] or whether you believe she made the whole thing up, even though she has nothing to gain,” he said. “She has to come here and talk to a group of strangers about her private parts, her private life and her pain.”

Citing testimony from Dean’s employees, Farley said Dean should not have needed to remove ES’s clothing in order to examine her. Farley also cited employee testimony to argue that the medical records Dean kept could be inaccurate but also conversely cited them as supporting evidence when arguing that Dean was alone with ES during the visit.

Much of the prior day’s hearing revolved around the defense’s expert witness, Dr. Jennifer L. Marshall, a clinical psychologist who was hired by Dean’s attorneys; and the expert witness called by the prosecution, Nicole Nordan, a licensed professional counselor.

Because Marshall was hired by Dean’s attorneys and not Dean, the prosecution was unable to talk to her beforehand.

The two experts offered contrasting views on how victims of sexual trauma process and recall memories. Nordan testified that don’t recall things neatly or linearly. Marshall testified that ES’s claims of blocking out memories were not consistent with how research shows victims with amnesia processing memories.

Farley opted to spend more time finding common ground between the experts’ testimony, pointing in particular to the concept of “fight, flight or freeze.” Both experts had agreed that victims of sexual trauma can respond by freezing and not fleeing or fighting their attacker.

Both ES and AS described freezing when they claim they were assaulted by Dean, a decision that caused them shame and impacted their decision not to report the incidents earlier.

“This is an idea that the general public does not know as much about as fight or flight, but it is very much a reality and very much a reality of the case,” Farley said.

When pressed by the defense about why she returned three times to Dean and did not initially share this information with police investigators, ES claimed she did not remember the visits clearly and that she felt she had to return in order to get clearance to return to work after an injury.

Citing the experts’ testimony, Farley argued that there were a variety of reasons that a victim might return to a situation or individual that caused sexual trauma.

“Every week this courtroom sees women who are victims of sexual assault who were beaten and hurt by their husbands and boyfriends and who returned to that situation,” he said. “There are a lot of victims of trauma who may return to someone who has power over them.”

Throughout the trial, Dean’s attorney Gene Rossi said they have worked to highlight inconsistencies in testimony and point to discrepancies that could lead to a finding of reasonable doubt.

Rossi urged the jurors to use their common sense to find that there were plenty of reasons to doubt the claims made by ES.

“Every woman who makes an allegation should be heard,” Rossi said. “But when we get into a court of law we have the right to challenge it.”

Rossi presented a list of areas he believed pointed to reasonable or considerable doubt, including the medical office’s purported policy of “knock-knock, hello.”

Deriving its nickname from the practice of Dean’s employees knocking twice on his exam room door before immediately opening it in order to present him with documents to sign, Rossi argued that this practice would make it very difficult for Dean to get away with the behavior that led to the charge.

Several of Dean’s former employees testified earlier in the trial that they had either entered Dean’s exam room while he was with a patient or seen others do it. Farley expressed skepticism of this practice during his closing argument, positing that it seemed out of character for a medical office to be flippant about privacy.

Another sticking point of the defense has been ES’s claim that after Dean sexually assaulted her she left the room as soon as she could and that he walked her to the appointment desk. Medical records and billing from that appointment indicate she received a pain medicine injection, Rossi said, and employees had testified that those injections were usually given at the end of appointments.

“Unless we’re accusing Dr. Dean of medical fraud, then [ES] was given a shot during her May 15, 2017 visit and we know that those shots were routinely given at the end,” Rossi said. “That’s it, that’s game over, that’s a lay-up.”

Dean still faces other charges related to different accusers and is currently slated for a second trial in June. It remains to be seen whether the verdict will impact future trials.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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