A judge agreed Thursday to dismiss two felony counts against a former Casper doctor accused of sexually assaulting his patients.
The ruling came during the fourth day of former Casper gynecologist Paul Harnetty’s trial in Natrona County District Court. Harnetty still faces eight felonies in the case: seven counts of second-degree sexual assault and one count of third-degree sexual assault.
A total of six female patients have testified 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.
One of Harnetty’s defense attorneys, John Miner, said on Thursday the defense team and prosecutors had discussed an issue with two of the second-degree charges in the case and come to an agreement to dismiss one of the charges.
Miner said there was also a typographical error with a third-degree charge in the case and said the state had agreed to ask for it to be dismissed.
Judge Thomas Sullins approved their agreement and said he would allow dismissal of two charges: one each of second- and third-degree sexual assault. The jury was not present for the judge’s ruling.
Tuesday, Sullins said there was a “clear defect” with two of the second-degree charges. He said there was an element of duplicity in the charges, but did not specify the problem further.
After the jury re-entered the courtroom on Thursday, the defense began to make its case. Two nurses that worked with Harnetty took the stand and said the doctor always wore gloves during exams and acted appropriately.
The nurses did not speak directly to the exams that Harnetty has been charged in relation to. One nurse said she did not work at the office when some of the assaults are alleged to have taken place.
A Cheyenne gynecologist then testified as an expert on behalf of the defense. Dr. Sharon Eskam described how she teaches medical residents to perform pelvic and breast exams.
The nurse said inadvertently touching parts of the female genitalia during exams is not uncommon.
“(A) patient takes a breath, a millimeter moves and you end up with an inadvertent touch,” she said.
After a lunch break, Eskam testified that she did not believe Harnetty had assaulted his patients. She said she had reviewed the alleged victims’ medical records and statements to law enforcement officers, and told the jury that the allegations could be chalked up to inadvertent contact or were medically appropriate procedures.
In giving those opinions, she was responding to Fuller’s characterizations of the allegations, which were primarily drawn from transcripts of law enforcement testimony rather than courtroom testimony.
Eskam also said one of the women’s descriptions of an assault may have been the result of a woman thinking a normal exam procedure was actually performed improperly.
“The brain perceives the most uncomfortable of the stimuli,” Eskam testified under cross-examination.
When prosecutor Mike Schafer questioned Eskam about apparent inaccuracies in Harnetty’s medical records, she said, “there are certain inaccuracies that are inherent” to record-keeping systems like the one Harnetty used.
After Eskam stepped down, Harnetty declined to testify in his own defense.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Friday, when the jury will be read its instructions and lawyers will present closing arguments.