Former Casper Doctor Denied New Trial, Acquittal in Sex Assault Case
A judge denied a former Casper doctor's request for a new trial on sex assault charges, as well as other motions, in a one-hour hearing Thursday in Natrona County District Court.
District Judge Thomas Sullins denied three motions filed by attorney John Miner on behalf of Paul Michael Harnetty: requests for arrest of judgement, acquittal and a new trial on the sexual assault charges of which Harnetty was convicted last month.
Arguing for roughly half an hour in support of the motions, Miner contended that the jury convicted Harnetty of a crime with which he was not charged.
According to Miner, a victim testified at trial to having been sexually assaulted by Harnetty in December 2013 or January 2014. Based upon her testimony, Miner said, the jury convicted Harnetty of count eight, which alleged second-degree sexual assault occurring on or between Aug. 1, 2013 through Jan. 31, 2014.
At the preliminary hearing in which Circuit Court Judge Michael Patchen bound over the charges against Harnetty, Casper Police Department Detective Sarah Nelson had testified that the particular victim claimed to have been assaulted in September and October of 2013.
But at trial, Miner said, that victim testified that Harnetty sexually assaulted her in January 2014. That incident would have been within the dates specified in charging documents, but Miner asserted it was a different incident for which probable cause had not been found at the preliminary hearing.
Therefore, Miner argued, Harnetty had been convicted of a crime with which he was not charged. While the crime of which Harnetty was convicted was within the charged date range, Miner said there was no way the charge could have been bound over to District Court without adequate probable cause that the specific incident occurred.
Miner asserted that the incident for which probable cause was found at the preliminary hearing becomes the "logged case" once the charge is bound over the District Court. Harnetty then could not have been tried for a different incident, even if that incident is within the charged date range.
The victim's testimony at trial which Miner referenced was in response to a question from the prosecutor. The victim was asked about her "last exam" as a patient with Harnetty, and testified that the final exam was in late December 2013 or early January 2014.
Miner also said that the victim was incorrect in answering that question. He said the victim's last examination by Harnetty -- a cervical exam -- was March 10, 2014. However, Miner explained, he did not receive medical records of that exam -- as well as exams on Jan. 21, 2014 and March 3, 2014 -- until roughly two weeks before last month's trial.
In his motion for a new trial filed Feb. 5, Miner called the original proceeding a "trial by ambush."
Miner went on to allege that amended charging information, to which the defense stipulated, was manipulated by the state without Harnetty's consent, and presented a prejudice against Harnetty.
Responding to Miner's motions, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri said the change to the charging information never changed the date range. Rather, the change only dismissed a single count as duplicative of another charge. Taheri reiterates that the defense agreed to that amendment.
Taheri also pointed out that the defense did not object to the victim's testimony at trial, nor did defense counsel raise any problem with the jury instruction regarding the charge in question.
"Even if some facts relied upon for conviction were not argued at the preliminary hearing, that is irrelevant" to the motion as filed, Taheri wrote in his response to Miner's motion for acquittal.
Taheri argued that the defense did not lodge any objection to the amended charging information until after Harnetty was convicted. The defense also never requested a bill of particulars from the state as to count eight.
"I really think the defense is trying to overcomplicate what happened," Taheri told the court.
Sullins, in denying all three motions, said he did not find a sufficient basis for relief under the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure under which Miner filed his motions.
"There is sufficient evidence of each with respect to the time frame and the count charged to sustain the conviction," Sullins told the attorneys.
"As I see it, we have the same offense... alleged to have occurred in the same time frame, including the same victim," Sullins continued. He added that he didn't see it as a circumstance where he could "jump in and take the conviction away from the jury."