Maryland pediatrician convicted of sex abuse charges, acquitted of rape

A Frederick, Maryland, pediatrician has been convicted of sexually abusing a teenage patient in April.

After a two-day bench trial in Frederick County Circuit Court, Judge William Nicklas found Dr. Ernesto Torres, 69, guilty on second-degree assault and fourth-degree sex offense charges that were brought after an 18-year-old patient claimed he abused her in his office on April 26.

Nicklas said in the courtroom that Torres had “used trust built up with the victim over a lifetime” to sexually assault her, and that the victim “did not react as a young woman but as a child patient trying to make sense of what was happening to her.”

Nicklas acquitted Torres of a second-degree rape charge, however, which didn’t sit well with State’s Attorney Charles Smith.

Smith called it a verdict “we did not particularly agree with. … I respect [Nicklas] as a judge; I just think he got this one wrong.”

Smith said the judge acquitted Torres on the rape charge because he found the doctor did not use force; Smith said the nature of the sexual abuse was inherently forcible.

He said he’d talked with the victim, whom he described as “a great young lady who had a lot of courage to come forward. … I believe this young lady did not receive justice.”

Torres will be sentenced next month. Smith said the assault charge carries a 10-year sentence, but it “will, ironically, merge with” the fourth-degree charge, so Torres is facing one year in prison when he’s sentenced in December.

Asked to explain how it works, Smith said he couldn’t. “We’ve been trying to change that down in Annapolis. … It’s beyond me.”

After the charges were lodged against Torres in May, dozens of girls and women came forward with accounts of alleged abuse that go back to 1980 against girls between 11 and 18 years old — in some cases with parents present in the doctor’s office.

Smith said Torres will be tried on charges relating to 11 girls and women in March. He said at least 20 others had come forward — one only two days ago — and his office is still working out charges in those cases.

He said Friday’s verdict wouldn’t dissuade him from going forward: “We are going to continue to try these cases. … I can’t guarantee an outcome; I can guarantee that we’re going to pursue it.”

Torres was banned from practicing medicine in May, when the charges were filed.

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