On Thursday in Texas, a jury of five women and seven men deliberated for 15 hours before convicting Shafeeq Sheikh, a former doctor, of second-degree sexual assault.
The following day, the jury sentenced him to 10 years of probation. The prosecution had fought for a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Unlike most states and the federal government, Texas grants juries the power to set criminal punishments.
The incident occurred on Nov. 2, 2013, when Sheikh, now 46, was an internal medicine resident at Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston. A patient told authorities that a male doctor came to her room three times that night, raping her during the third visit. The woman, who was attached to machines and was sedated, was unable to fight and tried to call for help, but the nurses’ call button had been unplugged, court records say. She reported the incident the following morning and agreed to a rape-kit test. DNA tests led investigators to Sheikh two years later, in 2015.
The Washington Post does not identify people who are or may have been victims of sexual assault.
Sheikh, a doctor at Baylor College of Medicine at the time of the incident, testified that he went to the woman’s room to do a medical check but that she “came on to him” by grabbing his crotch, Sheikh’s attorney, Lisa Andrews, said. Sheikh left, came back to the room, and she came on to him again, Andrews, said.
Sheikh was seen on surveillance video and logged his badge to go to the floor where the woman’s room was located at least 12 times, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“I think he was probably somewhat shocked and confused the first time,” Andrews said. “He came back and she did those things again, and so he reciprocated.”
Andrews said the defense questioned the woman’s credibility during the trial and presented evidence, including phone records showing that she was texting and calling people while she was at the hospital, to try to prove that she was not sedated. Sheikh’s legal team also questioned the woman’s motivation, suspecting that she had intended to file a lawsuit to potentially receive a settlement, according to Andrews.
A lawsuit against Sheikh’s former employer, Baylor College of Medicine, is pending in the state Supreme Court.
“He made a mistake, but he didn’t sexually assault her,” Andrews told jurors during her closing argument, the Houston Chronicle reported. “Here we have this Latina woman with her fake boobs that came onto that little nerdy middle-aged guy and he lost his mind.”
At the trial’s sentencing phase, prosecutors asked for the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
“He sought her out. He chose her to prey on,” Assistant District Attorney Lauren Reeder told jurors, according to the Chronicle. “You know he’s the type of man who would go in multiple times, testing the waters, seeing how far he could go and get back to his normal business after that.”
Jurors sided with Sheikh’s attorneys, who argued for a far more lenient sentence and called family and friends to testify about Sheikh’s remorse for violating his Hippocratic oath and his marital vows.
“I have to believe that they probably have some residual doubt about either his guilt or innocence,” Andrews told The Washington Post, adding later: “I believe the jury made the right decision in this particular case based on the facts that they heard.”
The outcome surprised some legal experts, who told the Chronicle that the lenient sentence was unusual, especially for a professional who should be held to a higher standard.
Michele Dauber, a Stanford University law professor who led a campaign to recall California Judge Aaron Persky for sentencing Brock Turner to six months in jail, said it’s “likely” that jurors were persuaded by the defense’s “outrageous racist and victim-blaming arguments.”
Dauber noted Andrews’s argument describing the accuser as a “Latina woman with her fake boobs.”
“That kind of argument is shameful. The legal system has failed to take violence against women seriously, and that is even more true where the victims are from marginalized communities,” Dauber said in an email to The Washington Post. “Sexual assault and harassment impact the ability of women to experience equality in our society and this kind of victim-blaming is a big part of the reason.”
Andrews acknowledged that much of the outrage was because of how vigorously attorneys defended Sheikh.