INDIO, California - A former Eisenhower Medical Center nursing aide who was accused of sexually assaulting a patient was acquitted Tuesday of felony charges.
Gil Ernesto Lopez, 50, of Cathedral City, was charged with sexually assaulting the woman in August 2015 on her third consecutive night of inpatient care at the hospital, where she was being treated for complications following gall bladder surgery.
Jurors, who declined to speak with reporters following the reading of the verdict, deliberated for just over a day before clearing Lopez of felony counts of forcible sexual penetration, sexual penetration with a foreign object and sexual battery for the purpose of sexual arousal.
Defense attorney Bosky Kathuria, who contended throughout the trial that Lopez was falsely accused, said his client "has been carrying a weight around his shoulders for quite some time'' and feels "justice has been served'' with his acquittal.
Lopez's accuser, identified in court as Jane Doe, was not present when the verdict was read.
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She testified last week that she was asleep in her hospital room around 11:30 p.m. when Lopez began fluffing the pillows beneath her legs.
After making sexually charged comments to her, he moved his hand onto her leg, then sexually assaulted her while she pleaded with him to stop, Doe said. She testified that she tried to push him away, but prescribed morphine left her "paralyzed'' with "no power'' to resist the assault, which she said lasted between two and three minutes but "felt like an eternity.''
Deputy District Attorney Deana Bohenek told the jury that Lopez "sexually assaulted Jane Doe as she lay helpless in her hospital bed.''
The prosecution alleged he became ``spooked'' midway through the assault and retreated to a bathroom before returning and assaulting her again.
Lopez was brought in for questioning the following month and denied any sexual contact with the patient, Bohenek said.
However, in a second interview, Lopez said he noticed the woman's oxygen monitor wasn't working and put his hand in hers to try to warm it. He said she then moved his hand toward her midsection in a way that Lopez misconstrued as a consensual act, the prosecutor said. Lopez said he did not bring up the incident during his first interview because he was too embarrassed to tell the truth, according to Bohenek.
Kathuria called his client a victim of false accusations, telling jurors in his opening statement last week that the woman had invented the assault in a ``scheme'' to obtain a seven-figure sum in punitive damages from the hospital. Last year, she sued the hospital and Lopez, alleging that Eisenhower was negligent in hiring and retaining him.
The defense attorney said Doe did not scream or cry out when the alleged assault occurred, nor did she use the "call button'' she had on hand to alert hospital staff that something was wrong, which he said indicated the assault may have never happened. Kathuria emphasized Doe's criminal history, including prior convictions for forgery, theft and welfare fraud, and described her as "a con artist whose ultimate objective was to sue Eisenhower hospital for a tidy sum of money.''
Doe testified that she was "sick'' and "ashamed'' of herself for not screaming out during the alleged assault, and didn't call for help because she ``didn't know what else to do,'' in addition to being affected by the morphine.
The lawsuit alleges that Eisenhower should have been aware that Lopez was "unfit'' to be an employee at the hospital, "particularly placed alone with female patients.''
The plaintiff returned to the hospital in November 2015 for follow-up treatment and was "shocked'' and "horrified'' to discover that Lopez was still working at Eisenhower during the ongoing sheriff's investigation, and was assigned to the same floor where she was staying, according to her court papers. She claims she immediately checked out of the hospital against the advice of hospital officials.
Lopez was put on leave at some point after the plaintiff's November stay and resigned his post last year, according to hospital officials.
A hearing in the civil case is next scheduled for Feb. 7 at the Palm Springs Courthouse.
Noticias en español: Telemundo 15
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