Paul Harnetty, a former Casper gynecologist convicted of sexually assaulting two of his patients, was sentenced Friday to 20 to 30 years in prison.
As Judge Thomas Sullins read the verdict, Harnetty’s eyes blinked a half dozen times while he remained otherwise motionless, in keeping with his demeanor for nearly all of the 90-minute hearing.
Harnetty, who was convicted in January of sexually assaulting two of his patients, declined when given the opportunity to speak before the sentence was handed down.
“No, thank you,” he said.
A total of six female patients told a jury earlier this year that Harnetty touched them during physical examinations in ways that were unusual and made them feel uncomfortable. The women said that Harnetty’s exams were different from those they had experienced by other doctors. Some women said he touched their genitals without gloves while others said he rubbed them in ways that didn’t seem to be part of a medical exam. Prosecutors won convictions on two of eight counts.
Friday, one of Harnetty’s victims gave a statement. Speaking in a rapidfire manner, the woman said she spoke on behalf of numerous other women. The assault had cost her years of her life and his actions had plagued her with anxiety, she said.
“I trusted him with not only myself but my unborn children,” the woman said. “He abused that trust.”
The second victim had wanted to speak, but was unable to afford to travel from her new home out-of-state to the proceedings, prosecutor Mike Schafer said.
A nurse that had worked with Harnetty then spoke, saying the doctor had thousands of satisfied former patients.
“I respect Paul Harnetty not only as a person but a brilliant doctor,” Cheryl Cox said. “I am proud to have been his nurse.” She asked the judge for leniency.
Harnetty’s mother, Monique Harnetty, then stepped to the podium. She told the judge about Harnetty’s four children and asked him to allow Harnetty to join her and her grandchildren in Florida. The elder Harnetty said she thought her son was innocent.
“I strongly believe in my heart of hearts that Paul did not do these things,” she said.
Prosecutor Mike Schafer then spoke, describing the assaults in detail as he referred to testimony presented at trial. He told the judge about one woman who continued to see Harnetty because she was concerned her pregnancy was high risk. It wasn’t.
“Imagine ... the power that man had over her,” Schafer said, gesturing to Harnetty with a legal pad. “Women are in the most vulnerable position of their life when they walk into that examination room.”
Schafer then read from a letter composed by the victim who could not speak at the sentencing hearing. He read a dictionary definition that describes doctors as healers.
“That man did not heal. He destroyed,” the victim wrote.
Schafer then said Harnetty had a pattern of criminal behavior that was stopped by the reports of victims.
“This community should be very proud of these women coming forward,” Schafer said.
Schafer asked Sullins for two sentences of 12 to 14 years, to run one after the other. He asked for a concurrent probationary period for a felony steroid possession conviction.
Defense Attorney Don Fuller then spoke, saying Sullins was already familiar with the case. He read from a pre-sentencing report prepared by the office of probation and parole that stated Harnetty had a low risk of re-offending and a minimal criminal history.
“Everything suggests that there’s no criminal future (for Harnetty),” Fuller said.
The defense attorney then noted that of 12 charges brought against the doctor, four were dismissed and he was acquitted on another six. Fuller declined to offer a sentencing recommendation, instead asking Sullins for mercy.
“Be fair and we’ll live by your ruling, your honor,” he said.
Harnetty then was given the opportunity to speak, which he declined.
In sentencing Harnetty to two 10- to 15-year sentences, Sullins cited the seriousness of the offenses and the impact upon victims in the case. He also ordered Harnetty to pay a $5,000 fine and sentenced him to a concurrent probation term for the steroids conviction.
The judge declined a request for Harnetty to be allowed free on bond pending appeals in the case.
Reached by phone after the hearing, Fuller said he was unsurprised by the sentence.
“He’s not known as a light sentencer,” Fuller said, in reference to Sullins.
Fuller said he understood the sentences given the nature of the convictions, but said his client remained adamant that he was innocent. Fuller said attorneys would continue to appeal for Harnetty.
“The judge is gonna do what the judge is gonna do. And we’ll take it to the Supreme Court,” Fuller said.
Schafer could not be reached for comment following the hearing.