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Trauma and repressed memories examined during sexual assault trial

A doctor charged with sexual assault called on former co-workers and a clinical psychologist Thursday in an effort to convince a jury of his innocence.

Dr. Mark Hormuz Dean was 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 is facing 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.

Now entering the third day of testimony, the jury sat impassively in the Albemarle County Circuit courthouse as the defense presented evidence. Jurors were often shuffled out of the courtroom Thursday as Judge Claude Worrell was forced to rule of a variety of motions from the parties.

The primary witness called Thursday was Dr. Jennifer L. Marshall, a clinical psychologist who was hired by Dean’s attorneys to offer insight into trauma and its effects on memory.

Central to the prosecution’s case has been testimony from two women who claim that Dean digitally penetrated them during separate incidents in 2017. Both women testified that the sexual contact was not consensual and that they blocked the memories out and didn’t share their stories until months and years later.

In this trial, Dean is facing only a single charge from one of the women, ES, who has received a great deal of scrutiny from the defense over three return visits she made to Dean at his office after she alleges the assault took place.

ES testified earlier that she didn’t fully remember her return visits to Dean, later remembering portions of the return visits in concert with other recovered memories. She also testified that she returned because she thought she had to in order to get clearance to return to work and that she made sure she was never alone with Dean again.

After some legal quibbling over what questions could be permitted, the court allowed defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana to ask Marshall whether it was typical for someone who has experienced traumatic sexual abuse to not remember returning to the scene of the alleged assault. Marshall said this was atypical.

“Research shows that memory erodes over time and that it doesn’t get stronger,” Marshall said. “If someone were to return to a location where they experienced trauma and to the person who inflicted it, then I would expect that the memories would be more salient.”

Marshall said that there are two major kinds of amnesia associated with emotional trauma: anterograde amnesia, which affects the ability to form new memories, and retrograde amnesia, which affects the ability to recall already-formed memories.

In her opinion, Marshall said returning to the scene or circumstance of a severe trauma would reinforce the memory of the trauma. She also testified that it is unlikely that someone would experience both retrograde and anterograde amnesia.

When pressed by Alicia Milligan, chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney for the county, Marshall said that someone may choose not to think about trauma they endured, though she viewed this as different than choosing not to remember something.

Marshall’s testimony appeared to be the antithesis to testimony given by the prosecution’s expert witness earlier in the trial. On Tuesday, Nicole Nordan, a licensed professional counselor, testified that victims of sexual assault often have a difficult time recalling their experiences in a chronological manner.

In addition to expert testimony, the defense called to the stand a slew of Dean’s former employees. The former employees’ testimony was largely similar, with each of them reiterating earlier defense claims that Dean’s office had no sound-proofing and that it was not uncommon for workers to enter exam rooms while the doctor was seeing a patient.

A sticking point of the defense’s questioning was when pain management injections were given to patients. While all the former employees said these injections were typically given at the end of the appointments, most ceded that the timing could change based on the patient.

All the former employees also testified that they did not know whether Dean had sexually assaulted the two accusers.

Closing arguments are expected to begin Friday morning. The case then will be handed over to the jury, who are expected to render a verdict by the evening.


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