An Arizona man was arrested on Wednesday and charged with sexually assaulting a 29-year-old woman who's been in a vegetative state for 14 years.
Nathan Sutherland, 36, is a licensed nurse who worked at Hacienda Skilled Nursing Facility and was responsible for caring for the victim at the time of the incident. The woman went into labor on December 29, shocking medical staffers who claim they did not know she was pregnant, reports KABC-TV.
The victim suffered a drowning accident some 14 years ago and has been in a vegetative state ever since. According to her family, she suffers from "significant intellectual disabilities" due to seizures during her childhood, reports the BBC.
John Micheaels, an attorney representing the victim and her family, told reporters, "She has feelings, likes to be read to, enjoys soft music and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family."
"The important thing here is that contrary to what's been reported, she is a person, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities. She has feelings and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family," Micheaels noted, speaking to Arizona Republic last week. The attorney added that her caregivers can tell her mood.
The family have described the young woman as a "beloved daughter."
On Tuesday, Sutherland, who worked at the facility since 2011, surrendered a court-ordered DNA sample to authorities and was subsequently arrested after it was found that his DNA matches the victim's baby. As noted by KABC-TV, the 36-year-old "was responsible for caring for the victim and had access to her at the time of the incident."
"We owed this arrest to the victim," said Phoenix police chief Jeri Williams. "We owed this arrest to the newest member of our community, that innocent baby."
Sutherland was booked at the Maricopa County Jail on one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, notes the outlet. His bond is set at a cash-only $500,000 and has been ordered to wear a monitoring device.
Questioned by a reporter about the staffers' knowledge of the victim's pregnancy, an employee responded, "From what I've been told she was moaning. And they didn't know what was wrong with her."
The nursing facility has now changed their protocol regarding female patients: a female medical staffer must be present with any male employees entering their rooms.
Hacienda announced Friday that they had suspended two employees after another patient claimed to have been abused. "The patient, described as having serious intellectual disabilities and a history of attention-seeking behavior, claimed to have been yelled at and struck on the head and arm," reports Arizona Republic.