Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds Harnetty Sex Assault Convictions
The Wyoming Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously upheld the conviction of former Casper ob/gyn doctor Paul Harnetty who sexually assaulted two women under his care.
A jury convicted Harnetty in January 2018 of two counts of second-degree sexual assault committed against two different patients and acquitted him on five other counts.
In February 2018, the former obstetrician/gynecologist at the Community Health Center of Central Wyoming pleaded guilty in a separate case to attempted possession of the steroid Nandrolone.
In May, Natrona County District Court Judge Thomas Sullins sentenced Harnetty to 20 to 30 years in prison for the sexual assault counts, with the sentence for attempted possession of the steroid to run concurrently.
Harnetty appealed the conviction to the Wyoming Supreme Court in May.
The justices heard the oral arguments in November, and handed down their opinion Wednesday.
In their opinion, they reviewed the cases of the two women whose stories resulted in Harnetty's convictions.
In the first, the patient testified how he would put his hand on her stomach and said pregnant women turn him on, if she and a friend would like to have sex together, and inserted his finger in her anus during separate exams.
In the second, the patient testified that Harnetty conducted a pelvic exam and rubbed his thumb on her clitoris to arouse her.
In his appeal, Harnetty disputed the prosecution's assertion that, as a doctor, he was in a position of authority over patients. The law at the time did not include "'health care provider" in the law under which he was charged, so he should have been charged under another statute, he said.
But the justices cited case law that stated "'authority'' "'mean[s] an externally granted power, not a self generated control.'"
Likewise, "A pregnant woman who seeks the services, advice, and treatment of an OB/GYN places a great deal of trust in that health care provider," the justices wrote, concluding the prosecution presented enough evidence about a position of authority to sustain Harnetty's conviction.
The high court also rejected Harnetty's claim that the district court erred when it rejected a proposed jury instruction from him, saying it did not deal with a crime the state did not charge him with.
Finally, Harnetty appealed the conviction on the grounds that the state's testimony at his preliminary hearing -- the early hearing in which a judge rules whether there is probable cause that a crime was committed and the accused committed it -- was different than that of the second patient during the trial.
Natrona County District Court rejected this motion, and the Wyoming Supreme Court agreed with it on this point, too.