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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Taub General Hospital Rape Case

     On November 2, 2013, Mary Cruz (not her real name) was admitted to the Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston with complaints of shortness of breath and wheezing. Doctors sedated her and attached her to a machine to help her breathe. Dr. Shafeeq Sheikh, on call at the hospital, visited Cruz's private room three times that night. On his third visit he unplugged the nurse's call button and raped the helpless woman. Mary Cruz reported the sexual assault the following morning and agreed to a rape kit analysis.

     Two years after Mary Cruz's sexual assault, DNA analysis of the evidence proved that Dr. Sheikh had engaged in sexual intercourse with the patient that night.

     A Harris County prosecutor charged the 42-year-old physician with second-degree sexual assault. Dr. Sheikh pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     The Mary Cruz rape case did not go to trial until August 2019, almost six years after the alleged crime. The prosecution's case rested primarily on the strength of the victim's testimony and the DNA evidence.

     Dr. Sheikh's attorneys launched an aggressive defense that amounted to attacking Mary Cruz's credibility and her motives. According to the defense version of the case, the so-called victim had seduced the doctor into having sex with her by grabbing his crotch.

     To show that at the time of the alleged consensual sexual encounter Mary Cruz was not heavily sedated as she claimed, the defense produced phone records that revealed she was texting and calling people during the period in question. Defense attorneys also floated the theory that Mary Cruz had filed a false rape claim in anticipation of a large settlement from the hospital.

     In an effort to discredit Mary Cruz, one of the defense attorneys said, "Here we have this Latina woman with her fake boobs that came on to that little nerdy middle-aged guy, and he lost his mind."

     At the conclusion of the two-week trial, the jury of five women and seven men found Dr. Sheikh guilty of second-degree sexual assault. Prosecutors asked for the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison. (In Texas, juries impose sentences.)

     At the convicted doctor's sentencing hearing, the defendant's friends and relatives came forward to vouch for his good character. The doctor himself showed great remorse for violating his Hippocratic oath and his marriage vows.

     On August 18, 2019, the Harris County jury sentenced Dr. Sheikh to ten years probation. The lenient sentence suggests that at least some of the jurors were not completely convinced that Mary Cruz's account of the incident was true.

     Harris County prosecutors and many others in the community were outraged by what they believed was a horribly light sentence for a terrible crime that not only violated Mary Cruz but patients' trust in doctors.

     Dr. Shafeeq Sheikh lost his license to practice medicine in Texas and was required to register as a sex offender.

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