Years after the first accusations of sexual assault, a former Albemarle County pain management doctor went to court Tuesday for the first of what may be several trials.
Dr. Mark Hormuz Dean was arrested in January 2018 and has been accused of sexual assault by several women who were his patients at Albemarle Pain Management Associates between 2011 and 2017. The cases have also been separated, meaning Dean will likely face multiple trials.
For the better part of the last two years, pre-trial motions and most court filings in Dean’s cases have been heard behind closed doors or sealed from the public, in part to protect the alleged victims’ medical information.
After a full day of jury selection on Monday, Dean’s first trial on one charge of felony object sexual penetration kicked off Tuesday in Albemarle County Circuit Court.
The charge was made by a woman who approached the county police in 2020, alleging Dean penetrated her with his fingers during a medical exam in May 2017.
Tuesday, due to continuing COVID-19 precautions, the jury sat impassively in the courthouse’s gallery as the parties outlined their cases in the unusually arranged courtroom.
Alicia Milligan, chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney for the county, told the jury that the woman, identified in court by the initials ES, went to Dean because she was experiencing back and hip pain related to a workplace injury.
During a visit to Dean’s office, Milligan said the doctor penetrated ES with his fingers before covering her mouth to prevent her from making noise. ES did not come forward with her story until the fall of 2020, when Milligan said she broke down and told her husband before going to the police.
“She didn’t remember every detail surrounding the incident at first, including that she went back to the office three more times afterward,” Milligan said. “But as you’ll hear, she worked hard to suppress all her associated memories, which is not uncommon for victims of sexual assault. But certain things are seared into her brain, even if the details are not precise.”
ES returned three times because she wanted to be cleared to return to work, Milligan said, and each time brought someone else with her to the appointment.
Milligan said the jury will also hear from another accuser, whose experience matches up very closely with that of ES. Neither woman knows each other or had heard the other’s story, Milligan said. Mulligan also reminded the jury that the accusers are not on trial.
“This is not about what [ES] did or did not do, it’s about what the defendant did to her,” she said. “It’s about how he violated her and abused his position of power to get away with it.”
Rhonda Quagliana, one of Dean’s attorneys, spent most of her opening statement working to undercut the prosecution’s claims. Emphasizing that the jury should not find her client guilty if reasonable doubt is present, Quagliana told the jury that they are not expected to “leave their common sense at the door” when they enter a courthouse.
“You have taken an oath to look at all the evidence and consider it all,” she said. “Anything you hear or see that makes you go ‘I don’t know if I can believe that,’ should be considered as a reasonable doubt.”
Quagliana pointed out the three return visits ES made, questioning why someone would do that if they suffered a vicious sexual assault at the hands of their doctor. She also argued that ES told false stories to the police, referencing how her recounting of the events changed several times.
“We’re not here to shame anybody, we’re not here to call anyone names,” she said. “It just is what it is.”
Several witnesses were called Tuesday, including Dr. Scott Chirichetti, who worked for Dean at the time of the alleged assault.
Chirichetti testified that no physical exam ever required patients to be naked, as ES claimed she was at the time of the alleged assault. He said he would often ask for a colleague to be in the room if he was examining a young female patient.
Dean, however, did not do this, he said, a claim that was later backed up by another one of Dean’s former employees.
Much of the evidence presented Tuesday centered around the logistics of the practice, which Dean’s defense attorneys argued had very thin walls that occasionally made private conversations difficult to guarantee.
The practice had two exam rooms, with the far one most often being used by Dean. According to evidence and witness testimony, Dean’s exam room bordered a break room which would likely have been empty at the time the alleged assault occurred in May 2017.
One of the later witnesses to testify was Nancy Heister, a former nurse case manager for Genex Services, a company which works to get medical care for people going through worker’s compensation processes.
Heister said she had been assigned to ES in the fall of 2016 after ES was injured on the job. After a variety of unsuccessful treatments and medical referrals, Heister said ES was referred to Dean’s practice.
Although it is common for Heister to attend appointments with patients, she said she did not have any notes from the date of the alleged incident and thus could not confirm she was with ES at the appointment. Heister said that she did accompany ES on her return visits to Dean but said she did not notice any change in ES’s behavior.
The last witness called Tuesday was Nicole Nordan, a licensed professional counselor and expert on how victims of sexual assault behave. Nordan told the jury that she viewed herself as unbiased and said she had not reviewed any of the facts of the case.
In her experience counseling patients, Nordan said it was not uncommon for people not to report a sexual assault immediately, sometimes waiting decades. Additionally, when someone is experiencing a sexual assault it’s not uncommon for them to freeze, especially if they know the perpetrator.
“Everyone likes to think they’re a fighter and it’s not an easy reality to swallow when the situation arises and your brain goes into survival mode and you freeze,” she said. “A lot of people have a hard time coming forward with their stories because they feel shame that they didn’t fight back.”
Memories of a sexual assault are not also recalled in a convenient or easily digestible order, Nordan said, making the kind of structured chronology of an interview difficult to adhere to.
During cross-examination Quagliana pushed Nordan about her qualifications and the people she counsels, who all self-report their experiences with sexual assault. After a tense back and forth in which Quagliana seemingly tried to get Nordan to say that people can intentionally leave details out of stories, court recessed for the day.
The questioning of Nordan is expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.