A Frederick County Circuit Court judge postponed a ruling in the trial of a pediatrician accused of sexually assaulting a patient until Friday after hearing closing arguments in the case Thursday.
Judge William R. Nicklas Jr. adjourned court for the day shortly before noon, saying he was not comfortable rushing a verdict in the trial of Dr. Ernesto Cesar Torres and postponing his decision until 3 p.m. Friday. Nicklas noted that he had just been assigned to oversee the trial on Monday, a day before the trial began, when Judge Julie R. Stevenson Solt fell ill and determined she would be unable to preside over the trial. Nicklas further pointed out that because Torres opted to be judged directly by a judge rather than by a jury, Nicklas was obligated to prepare a full explanation of his eventual verdict, requiring a closer examination of case law.
Torres, 69, was charged in May with second-degree rape, fourth-degree sex offense and second-degree assault after an 18-year-old patient stepped forward to police to accuse the longtime doctor of sexually assaulting her during an April 26 medication checkup in his office on Thomas Johnson Drive. Eleven other alleged victims accused Torres of similar conduct after news of the charges broke, prompting more charges that were scheduled to proceed to a separate trial next year.
Over the course of the three-day trial, both prosecutors and defense attorneys established that, on the day of the alleged assault, the woman and Torres were alone in his office, with the rest of the staff having left for the day and no chaperone assigned to sit in on the appointment. Both sides also seemed to agree that, during a physical examination, Torres’ hand touched the woman’s genitals beneath her pants, but the two parties disagree on how long the contact lasted and whether it was intentional.
At trial, Nicklas heard from the woman, her parents, former and current employees from Torres’ office, Frederick police detectives and others. Torres declined to take the stand. Instead, Frederick County Assistant State’s Attorney Tammy Leache and Margaret Teahan, one of Torres’ defense attorneys, proceeded to closing arguments shortly after the case was called at 10:30 a.m.
Leache ceded that, while the fact that the two were alone in the office was likely a coincidence, she said Torres clearly took advantage of the situation and used his position of trust and authority over the girl — who had been his patient since she was a week old — to assault her, calling it a “crime of opportunity” that Torres “couldn’t resist.”
“He knew that, even if she went home and decided to come forward, it would be his word against hers,” Leache said, pointing out the age difference between the two, as well as Torres’ reputation in the community. “He knew that he could try to pass it off as a misunderstanding ... but he judged her wrong.”
Leache reminded the judge that, by Torres’ own admission, his hand was down the woman’s pants for one to two minutes, which Leache said was far too long for the purposes of a simple abdominal exam. She also pointed out how Torres’ account of what happened changed over time, shifting from outright denial of any contact with the victim’s genitals to admitting that it could have happened, before finally telling detectives that it was “probably so,” in a recorded statement played earlier in the trial.
Meanwhile, Teahan called into question the woman’s perceptions and state of mind during the exam, which she admitted she was nervous about beforehand due to the anxiety that she suffered and knowing she would have to talk about her most recent anxiety attack for Torres to determine whether her medication needed adjustment. The woman acknowledged that her sense of time tends to elongate during anxiety attacks, which she said she suffered shortly after the exam began, Teahan said.
Teahan also pointed out that, according to the woman, Torres kept asking her about her anxiety as he had her lie down on the table and began the exam, indicating to Teahan that Torres was not aroused by the situation, but was simply playing his role as a physician.
“This conversation was all diagnostic. He was questioning her about an anxiety attack. ... He didn’t comment on her appearance, he didn’t tell her how attractive he found her. He continued to ask her diagnostic questions,” Teahan said.