Nathan Sutherland: Arizona nurse who impregnated vegetative woman pleads guilty
Nathan Sutherland, the former nurse who impregnated a patient in a vegetative state, has finally pleaded guilty to sexual abuse.
The 39-year-old former caregiver at a Hacienda Healthcare facility in Phoenix, Arizona reportedly pleaded guilty on Thursday morning, September 2, to charges of sexual and vulnerable adult abuse. Sutherland turned himself in to the authorities after a DNA test showed that he was the father of the baby born in December 2018. The victim was reportedly in hospice care since childhood after a near-drowning incident left her in a vegetative state, and hospital staff were unaware that she was pregnant, AZ Central reported.
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"After more than two-and-a-half years, all of us at Hacienda Healthcare are relieved that Nathan Sutherland has finally pleaded guilty to his awful offenses," Perry Petrilli, CEO of Hacienda Healthcare, said in a statement on Thursday. "We have cooperated in every way possible with law enforcement and investigators - and now we hope the judge will sentence Sutherland appropriately given the severity of his crimes. As ever, our hearts are with the victim and her family. May these final steps in the legal process help them find peace."
A baby can fully develop inside a woman even if she's in a vegetative state, doctors say. Court papers noted how Sutherland "worked around the victim and treated her on numerous occasions and thus had direct access to her for an extended period of time."
According to medical records obtained by People, the woman "lacks sufficient understanding and mental capacity to make decisions or give consents for her medical, placement or financial estate" and suffers from quadriplegia, recurrent pneumonia, as well as a seizure disorder. Her family told the magazine in a statement at she "has significant intellectual disabilities as a result of seizures very early in her childhood. She does not speak but has some ability to move her limbs, head, and neck." Their daughter "responds to sound and is able to make facial gestures," they added.
JUST IN: The Maricopa County Attorney's office says the sentencing range for Nathan Sutherland's plea agreement is 5.25 – 10 years for count one, and lifetime probation for count two. Sentencing is set for Nov. 4, 2021.#azfamily #haciendahealthcare pic.twitter.com/NTSiOkH0tq— Briana Whitney (@BrianaWhitney) September 2, 2021
The unexpected birth of the baby was followed by an internal review that led to the resignation of Hacienda HealthCare's erstwhile CEO, the suspension of one doctor who oversaw the woman's care, and the resignation of another.
It also led to a lawsuit brought on by the victim's family alleging Sutherland had cared for their daughter on numerous occasions from 2012 through 2018 despite promises from the state that only women would tend to her. Many of the horror nurse's encounters with the patient reportedly took place overnight when few staff members and visitors were around.
Meanwhile, Hacienda was accused of missing dozens of signs that the woman was pregnant, with lawyers for the family noting how she had gained weight, had a swollen belly, and missed her periods in the months leading up to the birth. They also revealed that the victim's nutrition was reduced in response to her weight gain during the pregnancy and that she delivered the boy while severely dehydrated and without pain medications, AZ Central reported. According to the Associated Press, the state of Arizona eventually ended up settling for $7.5 million.
The baby was reportedly in good condition when he was born, albeit the family has not revealed any further details since. According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Sutherland will be sentenced in November and is facing 5 to 10 years in prison.