Former Sitka physician sentenced for sexual assaults

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Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 9:06 PM AKDT
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SITKA, Alaska (KTUU) - A former doctor has been sentenced for the sexual assault of three women in Sitka.

Former physician Richard McGrath has been sentenced to 17 years with 15 years suspended, resulting in two years of jail time.

According to a press release from the Department of Law, McGrath agreed to a plea deal consisting of one count of third-degree sexual assault in relation to three separate sexual assaults that occurred in 2018 and 2019. McGrath accepted the deal in March, on what was to be the first day of the second attempt at trying his case before a jury. The initial trial, delayed by court shutdowns caused by COVID-19, was declared a mistrial in 2022 when the court failed to seat enough jurors to form a full jury.

A longtime employee of Sitka Community Hospital, McGrath admitted to the assaults, which occurred in such a way that women were initially unaware they were being sexually assaulted. An aggravating factor was found to apply to the case because of that, and the revocation of McGrath’s medical license was included as part of the plea agreement.

McGrath’s attorneys were unable to prove in court that the former doctor, now age 79, should receive a reduced sentence based upon a diagnosis of cognitive decline. His role in a position of trust — that of a medical doctor — also affected the severity of his sentencing. Prosecutor Bailey Woolfstead told the court McGrath’s mental decline was taken into account during plea negotiations and called his actions a violation of the “most sacred oath doctors take — to do no harm.”

Each of McGrath’s victims spoke during court proceedings, reflecting upon how the experience has made them unable to trust medical providers. One woman called attention to McGrath’s violation of trust.

”Rather than fulfilling his oath and the special trust placed in him as a medical doctor, he caused me greater harm and suffering, using me as an object for his own gratification,” the woman said. “There are certain positions in society that are afforded and deserve special trust and confidence. Medical doctors, clergy, law enforcement, nurses, among others, are people we are brought up to trust and to believe have our best interests at heart. When one of them uses that position of special trust to willfully inflict abuse and suffering upon those who are coming to them for help, the magnitude of the crime is all the greater. The trauma is compounded even beyond the criminality of the act by the violation of the sacred position of trust.”

Retired Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy, who presided over the sentencing, vilified McGrath for betraying his victims for “prurient selfish interests” while in a position of power.

“He chose vulnerable victims and made them more vulnerable,” Judge McConahy said.

Prosecutor Woolfstead recognized the toll the yearslong case has taken on the women who reported McGrath’s inappropriate actions, generating 13 charges against him. Woolfstead noted that throughout the four years of litigation, “each woman made the journey from victim to survivor.”

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, resources are available on the Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) website or by calling the statewide crisis hotline at 1-800-478-8999.