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Nurse accused of assaulting patient at Phoenix facility pleads not guilty

Arizona nurse pleads not guilty to assault

A nurse accused of raping an incapacitated woman who later gave birth at a long-term care facility in Phoenix has pleaded not guilty to a sexual assault charge. Tuesday's hearing for Nathan Sutherland only lasted a few minutes, with him identifying himself and stating his date of birth.

He pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult. Authorities said Sutherland raped a 29-year-old woman at the Hacienda HealthCare facility. She has been severely incapacitated since she was 3, and other workers at Hacienda were shocked when she unexpectedly gave birth in December.

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Nathan Sutherland Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

"I was stunned. I was beside myself to think and believe that this could happen to someone who wasn't able to speak for herself," said Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams.

Staff members at Hacienda were under court order to provide DNA samples as part of the investigation into the birth. Investigators said Sutherland's DNA matched the woman's newborn, though Sutherland's attorney, David Gregan, said there's no direct evidence linking Sutherland to the crime.

Gregan made a brief statement to reporters after Sutherland entered his plea, and said he'll make sure his client's rights are respected.

"Mr. Sutherland, just as you and I are, is entitled to due process of the law. Mr. Sutherland is entitled to constitutional protections," Gregan said.

The police chief said there could be more victims. But finding them may be difficult because many at the facility are unable to communicate.

After the patient gave birth, Hacienda's CEO resigned, along with a doctor. Another doctor was suspended.

Meanwhile, the baby boy is now in the care of the woman's relatives, who are members of the Apache tribe.