Plea may be withdrawn if Supreme Court rules in his favor
The woman referred to in court documents as “female patient” has no recollection of what happened to her in the operating room in early January 2015. But it’s changed her life all the same.
“I will never be the person I was before nurse Guty raped me,” the woman said in Park County’s District Courtroom on Monday.
Park County prosecutors say that the nurse, 47-year-old Robert W. Guty, stuck his fingers into the woman’s genitalia while she was under general anesthesia, being prepared for surgery on her foot. The charge was based on an account from a fellow nurse, who says she lifted up the patient’s blanket and saw Guty removing his hand from the woman’s genitalia.
During Monday’s proceedings, District Court Judge Bill Simpson accepted a plea deal that could eventually result in Guty serving one year in jail and four years of supervised probation for third-degree sexual assault (reduced from an original count of first-degree sexual assault). However, the deal could also result in the case against Guty being dropped altogether.
Whether Guty goes to jail or goes free will hinge on how the Wyoming Supreme Court views a ruling made by District Court Judge Steven Cranfill last year. Until the Supreme Court makes a decision, Guty will remain free on bond.
The high court will consider a decision from Cranfill that allowed prosecutors to introduce evidence that a few other staffers at the Northern
Wyoming Surgical Center in Cody, where the incident occurred, had seen Guty’s hands in inappropriate places on other female patients; one staffer told police that, when she underwent her own procedure at the surgical center, she wore extra clothing to protect herself.
The Park County Attorney’s Office had argued that if those accounts were not presented at trial, the nurse who reportedly saw Guty assaulting the woman would not be able to explain why she decided to look under the covers that day.
However, Guty’s defense attorney, Ian Sandefer of Casper, argued that the other nurses’ suspicions amounted to “gossip” that would only confuse the jury members and make for an unfair trial.
Cranfill decided last year that he would allow the other nurses to testify about their prior observations — and he reaffirmed that ruling in late April, days before a trial was set to start.
The parties wound up reaching the last-minute plea deal and the trial was canceled.
Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric and Sandefer did not detail the rationale behind the agreement during Monday’s hearing.
In accepting the deal, Judge Simpson deferred to Skoric and Sandefer’s judgment, saying they “probably know much more about the case than the court ever will.”
“Obviously the allegation is serious, the victim has encountered apparently significant trauma, etc., but like every case, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in the criminal forum,” Judge Simpson said, adding that’s “a very significant burden of proof that has to be met.”
One fact certain to have been an issue at trial is that there were multiple medical personnel working in the operating room that day, but only the one nurse saw Guty’s alleged sexual assault. That nurse reportedly left the OR immediately, telling another nurse that “she actually saw what they have been assuming for a long time [about Guty],” Cody Police Patrol Lt. Jason Stafford wrote in an affidavit filed in support of the case.
Sandefer, however, had questioned why none of the nurses ever reported their suspicions about Guty to surgical center leaders or anyone else; prosecutors said it made sense that the women wanted to have proof before making such a serious allegation against Guty, who was a supervisor.
The January 2015 sexual assault was reported to Todd Currier, the administrator of the Northern Wyoming Surgical Center. Currier told Cody police that, when he confronted Guty with the allegations, Guty became very quiet and said he was blindsided.
Currier said he waited for Guty to give some type of explanation, “but he remained silent,” Stafford wrote in the affidavit. Currier said he then asked Guty if he’d touched patients inappropriately, and Guty said no.
“It would not be how I would react; it would not be how most people I talked to would react,” Currier said in a later interview with investigators. “It’s that, I would have been very irate. I would have claimed how false it was and, ‘I’m being railroaded. This is my career.’ You know, ‘I can’t believe that you’re [saying] this.’”
Guty was immediately suspended and, after an internal investigation that took a few more days, Currier fired the nurse.
Guty — who had denied that the incident ever happened — said nothing about the case in court on Monday.
“I plead no contest, your honor,” he said.
He’ll be allowed to withdraw that no contest plea and the case will be dismissed if the Wyoming Supreme Court decides the testimony from the other nurses is inadmissible.
The plea means that Guty agreed to not challenge, or contest, the allegations brought against him. It has almost the same effect as a guilty plea, but it cannot be used against him in future legal proceedings, including civil suits.
The woman is currently suing Northern Wyoming Surgical Center (NWSC) and its board of directors over the sexual assault.
“NWSC, its administration, staff and board of directors knew, or should have known, of the danger posed to female surgical patients by the offending nurse employee [Guty]. Despite such knowledge, the board of directors and administration of NWSC took no action to prevent the incident,” says a portion of the complaint, filed in late June by the Rhodes Law Firm of Cheyenne. The complaint notes that multiple nurses claim to have seen — and one privately documented concerns about — inappropriate touching by Guty over a period of years; she alleges in the suit that the surgical center was negligent in protecting her from sexual assault. One claim is that the surgical center failed to train employees on what to do when abuse is suspected.
Northern Wyoming Surgical Center, which is jointly owned by West Park Hospital and local doctors, denied the woman’s allegations and asked that her suit be denied in a September filing.
One of Northern Wyoming Surgical Center’s defenses is that the damages alleged by the woman were “caused by an act for which [the surgical center and its board] are not responsible.” A trial has not yet been scheduled.
In court on Monday, the woman described how her life has been changed by the assault.
“This horrible act and this violation of my trust has forever changed my life and that of my family,” she said, saying that, aside from close family members, “I can longer trust anyone.”
The woman said she’s been emotionally traumatized, with the ordeal stressing her marriage and relationships with her children, left her unable to work in her previous job and caused her to now take anti-anxiety medications. She said she has repeated nightmares of being violated on an operating room table — and she fears that media coverage of the case will lead to everyone knowing she was the one who was raped.
Judge Simpson expressed his personal sympathies to the victim in lengthy remarks to her.
“I can’t tell you enough that you have great strength and courage and you have a wonderful family — and those things will sustain you in the future,” Simpson told the woman. “And I wish you all the best.”
The judge said he knows the difficulty that a victim faces in deciding whether to go through a public trial in which “you never know what the outcome will be, ever.”
“Sometimes people forget the burden is not just as easy as go forward and whatever the consequences, try the case,” the judge said.
Lt. Stafford said in court Monday that he supported the agreement. The victim voiced no objections while asking Simpson to impose a sentence that “would reflect the lifelong pain and the trauma that I feel will be present for the rest of my life.”
If the Wyoming Supreme Court upholds Cranfill’s decision — a process that could take up to 18 months — Guty would serve the year of jail time, then would have a five- to seven-year prison sentence hanging over his head while he served the four years of probation.
The case was first filed in March 2015; Guty spent a week in jail before making bail.
The Wyoming Board of Nursing opened a separate investigation into Guty’s actions, but that administrative matter had been put on hold while the criminal case played out. Board records show Guty’s nursing license expired in December 2016.