The defense attorney for the nurse accused of sexually assaulting an incapacitated woman who gave birth in an Arizona long-term care facility last month says there is “no direct evidence” his client is to blame.
In court on Wednesday, attorney David Gregan told the judge that Nathan Sutherland, the licensed practical nurse fired by Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix after his arrest, had no criminal record and deserved a low bond amount that would let him be set free from jail while the investigation proceeds, reports The Associated Press.
Sutherland, 36, was arrested Tuesday after providing a court-ordered DNA sample that matched with the boy born Dec. 29 to a 29-year-old woman who has been in a vegetative state for more than two decades, police said in a news conference Wednesday.
“There’s no direct evidence that Mr. Sutherland has committed these acts,” Gregan said, according to the AP. “I know at this point there’s DNA. But he will have a right to his own DNA expert.”
The judge denied Gregan’s request to reduce Sutherland’s $500,000 cash-only bond, and he remains in Maricopa County jail, PEOPLE confirms.
PEOPLE has been unable to reach Gregan, who has declined additional media requests following his court statements.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams identified Sutherland on Wednesday as “this person whom we believe committed this unspeakable act when he sexually assaulted one of our most vulnerable members of our community.”
“We owed this arrest to the victim,” she said. “We owed this arrest to the newest member of our community — that innocent baby.”
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Sutherland is charged on one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, authorities said. He invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and did not answer any questions from police after his arrest, said Sgt. Tommy Thompson.
Medical records earlier obtained by PEOPLE state the victim — a resident of the facility since she was a toddler — “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 and a seizure disorder.
Sutherland, who has been licensed to work in health care since 2005, is a twice-married father of two and former Christian rapper whose current wife filed for divorce on Dec. 5, three weeks before the victim went into labor. The birth shocked staff members at the facility who were unaware she was pregnant, Thompson has said.
Police say they learned about Sutherland after search warrants turned up records from the facility identifying those with access to the victim during the time they believe she was impregnated.
“When the incident occurred, he was responsible for the care of that victim,” said Thompson.
DNA samples were collected from “numerous individuals” including Sutherland, who was picked up Tuesday and brought to Phoenix police headquarters where he surrendered a DNA sample after “he found out that we did have a court order compelling him to provide that evidence,” said Thompson.
Sutherland was released, but arrested later the same day after a crime lab matched Sutherland’s DNA with the child, said Thompson.
“We still have evidence to go through,” he said. “We want to make sure we have a solid case. At this point we have developed probable cause, and that’s why Mr. Sutherland was arrested.”
Police are investigating whether other patients at the facility also may have been assaulted but so far have no evidence of such behavior. “We are prepared to take this investigation wherever it goes,” said Thompson.
Hacienda HealthCare, in a statement after Sutherland’s arrest, said the company is “troubled beyond words to think that a licensed practical nurse could be capable of seriously harming a patient. Once again, we offer an apology and send our deepest sympathies to the client and her family, to the community and to our agency partners at every level.”
The company said Sutherland had been hired after “an extensive background check,” but said “increased security measures to ensure the safety of all of our patients” have been enacted after the staff and the victim’s family were stunned by the unexpected birth.
The company’s CEO has since resigned, along with one of the doctors who oversaw the victim’s care, and another doctor has been suspended while the company continues an internal review to parallel the ongoing police investigation.