A judge found a longtime Frederick pediatrician guilty of second-degree assault and fourth-degree sex offense, but acquitted him of second-degree rape Friday afternoon.
Judge William R. Nicklas Jr. said he found the 18-year-old victim’s testimony in the three-day trial that began Tuesday more consistent than the account that 69-year-old Dr. Ernesto Cesar Torres provided to police.
In an initial interview with police, Torres denied touching the young woman inappropriately during an appointment April 26, but changed his testimony under further questioning, eventually admitted that his hand “probably” touched the woman’s vagina.
“[Torres’ account] is simply not plausible, while [the victim’s] version of events has remained consistent from telling her parents and eventually the police,” Nicklas said.
The judge also sided with the victim’s account that, during an examination of her abdomen, Torres slid his hand down her pants and rubbed her genitals, noting in particular the fact that Torres was not wearing gloves and questioning the need for a physical exam as part of a medication checkup.
Defense attorneys Margaret Teahan and Richard Bricken had sought to characterize such an exam as normal, saying anxiety, which is what the woman received a prescription for, often manifests itself in the form of stomach ailments. They also argued that, even if the doctor’s hand had touched the victim’s genitals, it was unintentional.
Nicklas went on to detail Torres’ relationship with the woman, arguing that the doctor exploited his position of authority over the victim, who had been his patient since she was a week old, in order to assault her.
Despite of this, Nicklas acquitted Torres of second-degree rape, which requires the state to prove some form of force or threat of force was used to commit the crime.
Nicklas ruled that the victim had not reacted to stop the assault, which she is not required to do in order for a rape conviction to apply, because of the confusion she felt as Torres relied on the trust he had developed with her over the course of her life.
“It was not done from fear, but from 18 years of a doctor-patient relationship,” Nicklas said.
Bricken and Teahan declined to comment on the judge’s verdict.
The victim’s father, who testified along with the victim’s mother on the second day of the trial, stormed out of the courtroom, slamming the door shortly after the judge announced his decision on the rape charge. Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith also indicated he was not pleased with Nicklas’ decision in a press conference after the verdict.
“Quite frankly, the judge got this one wrong. ... I just can’t believe that someone in a position of authority and a position of trust who digitally penetrates one of their patients is not considered force, but that’s the way the judge ruled,” Smith said. “I respectfully disagree with him.”
Smith also expressed disappointment with the judge’s decision not to revoke Torres’ bail, as well as the fact that the second-degree assault charge — which carries a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in prison — will merge under the fourth-degree sex offense, which carries a maximum possible sentence of only one year.
Smith praised what he called the courage of the victim and her family members, pledging to double down on his office’s efforts to secure more convictions against Torres from the 49 additional sex offenses he remains charged with from a combined 11 alleged victims who accused the doctor after the victim did. Those charges are scheduled to proceed to trial in March 2020, according to online court records.
“This is not over. ... We are going to continue to try these cases and see that each one of these individual victims have their day in court, have justice,” Smith said. “I can’t guarantee an outcome, but I can guarantee that we’re going to pursue it, we’re going to take it as seriously as we did this case.”
Smith also announced that his office and police have been in contact with as many as 20 more potential victims since the second round of charges was leveled against Torres, one as recently as this week. As a matter of course, police and prosecutors will investigate each claim and, if warranted, file additional charges, Smith said.
As a result of Friday’s outcome, prosecutors will likely drop a remaining second-degree assault charge that was filed in a separate case against Torres in late September, Smith said. The assault was alleged to have occurred on the same date listed in the first case filed against Torres and relates directly to the first alleged victim. But the charge was filed later because the state was made aware of the allegation only after it received evidence released by the Maryland Board of Physicians, according to a previous story by The Frederick News-Post.
“This trial obviously took a huge emotional toll on [the victim] and, after discussing it with her and her family, we’ve decided not to ask her to [experience that again],” Smith said Friday afternoon.
Nicklas scheduled a sentencing hearing for Torres for Dec. 19 at 9 a.m.