Law and Legal

How did a doctor avoid prison after raping a heavily sedated patient?

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(Houston Police Department)

HOUSTON – A former Texas doctor who was found guilty on Thursday of raping a heavily sedated patient will not serve time in prison for his crime. As a result, many people are scratching their heads wondering why.

Shafeeq Sheikh, a former physician at Baylor College of Medicine, was sentenced to 10 years of probation on Friday and will have to register as a sex offender. A 12-person jury found him guilty of sexually assaulting a patient five years prior, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The jury—five women and seven men—recommended the sentencing, to which visiting Senior District Judge Terry L. Flenniken was required to follow by law, according to the newspaper.

The punishment surprised defense attorneys, disappointed law enforcement, elicited concern from a rape victims advocacy group and sparked outrage on social media, according to the Chronicle.

heavily sedated patient
The former Baylor doctor, Shafeeq Sheikh, received 10 years probation for raping a patient in 2013 at Ben Taub Hospital. (Houston Police Department)

Sheikh was working the night shift at Houston’s Ben Taub Hospital in 2013 when a woman, previously identified as Laura, was admitted for shortness of breath and wheezing. She was in the hospital overnight and sedated when Sheikh came to her room several times during the night.

Laura said a doctor came to her bedside in the dark and began touching her breasts during a chest exam. She said she was weak, sore and confused, and tried to summon a nurse with the call button, but to no avail. The physician returned two more times, and raped her without using a condom.

DNA evidence was collected from a rape kit, but it took two years for charges to be filed against Sheikh. The DNA collected from the former doctor’s cheek swab match those in a rape kit.

Surveillance video also captured Sheikh on the floor where the woman’s room was located. The prowling doctor used his badge to swipe onto her floor at least 12 times that night.

“He sought her out. He chose her to prey on,” Assistant District Attorney Lauren Reeder said during Friday’s sentencing. “You know he’s the type of man who would go in multiple times, testing the waters, seeing how far he could go and get back to his normal business after that.”

“You know he’s the kind man of who walked around for two years before he was charged with this … knowing what he did,” she added.

During the trial, the doctor admitted to the sexual contact with the woman, but insisted it was consensual.

Sheikh said the patient took his hand and placed it on her breasts. He was intrigued by her breast implants and returned to her room again. At this point, he testified, she began touching his genitals and demonstrated with her body language that she wanted to have sex with him. He said he knew it was a breach of his marriage vows and the Hippocratic oath, but he succumbed to his impulse. He told jurors he believed it was consensual sex.

His lawyers also pleaded with the jury to show some compassion to Sheikh, his wife and children, who also suffered consequences due to the 46-year-old’s actions.

“The dreams of a man, the childhood dream to become a doctor, were shattered by his conduct. He destroyed his own dreams,” Sheikh’s lawyer Stanley Schneider said. “What he has done to himself and his family is punishment. They are serving his sentence with him. His children are serving his sentence with him.”

Sheikh has since left the hospital. The Texas Medical Board revoked his license in 2015 after they found he was a “continuing threat to public welfare.”

Veteran defense lawyers with no connection to the case called the outcome “unusual” and “a big victory” for the defense, explaining there was a very high likelihood a person who did not turn himself in to law enforcement and misrepresented the assault would face prison time.

“When you’re a doctor, I’d expect you’d get prison time,” said attorney Casey Kiernan, who has defended sexual assault cases for nearly four decades. “We hold doctors to a higher standard.”

Prosecutors respect the process that rendered the result, said Dane Schiller, a spokesman for District Attorney Kim Ogg.

“After being presented all the evidence, the jury convicted this man of rape and decided that he should be sentenced to 10 years of probation,” Schiller said. “The jury voted on behalf of the community to determine his sentence, and although prosecutors sought prison time, we respect this process, and the jury’s decision, which carries with it a lifetime of registering as a sex offender.”

federal judge rules

Laura, now 32, said after the sentencing that she wanted to move on from the incident. She told KHOU11 in 2015 that she believes there are other victims.

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