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Phoenix nurse in Hacienda rape case wants DNA evidence tossed out

PHOENIX (AP) — A nurse charged with sexually assaulting an incapacitated woman who later gave birth at a long-term care facility in Phoenix is asking a judge to throw out DNA evidence that authorities say ties him to the rape.

An attorney for Nathan Sutherland said in a court filing this week that the evidence should be tossed because Phoenix police officers didn’t get a warrant or have probable cause to take his client’s DNA and instead relied on a court order with a lesser standard of proof to gather the evidence.

Sutherland’s lawyer, Edwin Molina, said investigators made a misrepresentation when saying in a request for the court order that 36 male Hacienda HealthCare employees whose DNA was being sought had direct access to the victim. Molina argued police were unaware of the job duties of the 36 men or whether they had contact with the victim and said that investigators worked under the theory that “anybody and everybody could be a suspect.”

The Phoenix Police Department and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Sutherland, declined to comment on Sutherland’s request.

The pregnancy was discovered in December 2018 when an employee at the long-term care facility was changing the garments of the then-29-year-old victim and noticed she was in the process of delivering a child. Employees told police that they had no idea the woman was pregnant.

She lived at Hacienda for 26 years, until the child’s birth. Her medical conditions stem from a brain disorder that caused motor and cognitive impairments and vision loss. She was also left with no functional use of her limbs.

Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse, has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult. He was fired by Hacienda after his arrest and has since given up his nursing license.

Police have said Sutherland’s DNA matched a sample taken from the woman’s son. The victim’s mother is the boy’s guardian.

The surprise birth triggered reviews by state agencies, highlighted safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated and prompted the resignations of Hacienda’s chief executive and one of the victim’s doctors.

It led to a lawsuit from the victim’s parents that alleged Sutherland had cared for their daughter on hundreds of occasions from 2012 through 2018, despite promises from the state — which contracts with companies like Hacienda to provide services to people with developmental disabilities — that only women would tend to her.

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