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NLR doctor cleared in sex-assault case

Judge tosses charge, says prosecutors lack proof man groped patient by John Lynch | April 1, 2015 at 3:20 a.m.

A North Little Rock doctor accused of molesting a patient was cleared of wrongdoing at trial Tuesday by a Pulaski County judge who ruled prosecutors did not have enough proof to show a crime was committed.

Defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig promised the seven men and five women of the jury that Dr. Butchaiah Garlapati, 61, would testify to rebut the second-degree sexual assault charge against him.

Garlapati, who faced up to 20 years in prison, had been accused of groping a 57-year-old Pennsylvania woman's chest during a February 2013 medical exam at the Arkansas Pain Centers branch on Smokey Lane.

But Garlapati, the clinic's supervising physician, did not have to take the stand at his one-day trial before Circuit Judge Herb Wright halted the proceeding for lack of evidence after prosecutors Michael Wright and Amanda Fields rested their case.

The judge sided with the defense that the prosecutors had not produced enough evidence to show that Garlapati had touched the woman for his sexual gratification, Rosenzweig said.

The evidence also did not show that -- even if Garlapati had exceeded the boundaries of the physical exam -- he had forced the woman into submitting to him, with no proof that his accuser had objected to the touching, either by saying something to the doctor or by taking action to physically dissuade him, the attorney said.

In throwing out the case, the judge ruled that without that evidence as required by law, jurors would be forced to speculate about what had happened in order to reach a verdict, Rosenzweig said.

In his opening statement, Rosenzweig told jurors that Garlapati was not even supposed to see the woman when she went to the clinic, but he was filling in for another doctor.

Garlapati never touched the accuser's breasts and any accusation that he did would be a lie, Rosenzweig said.

The doctor only touched her to assess her to alleviate her chronic pain, the attorney said, telling jurors that the woman had numerous ailments and was taking an "astonishing array" of prescription medication.

If the doctor touched her in an objectionable way beyond the bounds of a physical examination, it would be completely by accident caused by the physicality required to conduct her assessment, Rosenzweig said.

"He doesn't think he touched her [inappropriately] at all," he told jurors. "There's all sorts of opportunities for accidental, incidental touching. Nothing he did had anything to do with anything like that."

And if Garlapati had done what he was accused of, he could have subsequently altered her medical records to cover up the act, Rosenzweig said.

The accuser, a former Austin resident, testified that she had only met with Garlapati twice in five visits to the Pain Centers branch. She was seeking relief for pain in her right shoulder, hands and feet, suffering the aftereffects of surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome in both of her hands.

It was on that second visit, an exam to start her on a pain-management regimen, that Garlapati had put his hand under her shirt and bra, then harshly poked and prodded her breasts while having her hold her arms behind her back, she said.

"I told him I don't have pain there," she said when asked about how she reacted to what he was doing. "I didn't know what to say. I trusted him because he's a doctor."

She said he pressed himself against her hands so closely that she could feel his genitals through the fabric. It couldn't have been a mistake because he moved to keep his body against her hands when she shifted position, she testified.

At the conclusion of the exam, Garlapati prescribed her two months' worth of the pain reliever OxyContin, twice what she was usually allotted and in a different dosage than she had taken before.

The morning after the exam, the woman told jurors, she woke to find her breasts sore and covered in bruises. She was examined that same day by her doctor, Dr. Brenda Ashley at North Cabot Family Medicine.

Ashley told jurors the woman had "deep bruises" over both breasts, saying one of the bruises had blood pooled under the skin. She said the woman was upset and tearful when describing her encounter with Garlapati.

Jurors saw three photographs of the accuser's breasts that Ashley had taken with a cellphone.

A second accuser, a woman from Monticello, came forward after Garlapati's November 2013 arrest, but the judge restricted her testimony at trial, declining to allow her to take the stand in the evidentiary portion of the trial.

The judge ruled at an October hearing that jurors could not hear her claims about Garlapati before they had reached a verdict. The woman's accusations did not meet evidentiary standards and her testimony would do more to make the doctor look bad than to prove the sexual assault charge against him, the judge ruled.

Court filings show prosecutors planned to use her as a sentencing witness if Garlapati had been convicted.

Metro on 04/01/2015

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