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Former nurse gets 20 years for sexual assault

Star-Telegram Staff Writer
This report contains graphic language.

FORT WORTH -- Kenneth Wayne Downs, a former nurse accused of sexually assaulting a partially paralyzed stroke patient in a south Fort Worth hospital, fought in the first half of his trial.

But after jurors convicted him Monday, he gave up.

"Just let me rot in jail because that is what my life is worth now," Downs angrily told the judge after the verdict.

Downs, 39, then instructed defense attorney Mark Rosteet not to enter any evidence -- including testimony to prove that he is eligible for probation because he has never before been convicted of a felony -- during the sentencing phase of his trial.

After 1 1/2 hours of deliberations, the jury of five women and seven men gave Downs 20 years in prison.

The former contract nurse at Huguley Memorial Medical Center must also register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Downs clenched his jaw but otherwise showed no reaction after state District Judge Elizabeth Berry announced the sentence.

The victim's daughter, speaking on behalf of her mother and the rest of the family, thanked the jury in a brief statement after the trial.

"Thank you to the court and to the jury for the decision you have made," she said softly. "I appreciate it."

Earlier in the day, jurors found Downs guilty of one count of sexual assault of a disabled person but deadlocked on a second count, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial on that charge.

Prosecutor Robert Foran said he will not retry Downs.

"We're satisfied with the jury's verdict," Foran said. "We don't wish to put the victim through the emotional trauma of another trial."

During the trial, the 65-year-old victim -- who has difficulty speaking because she has suffered several strokes -- testified using primarily one-word answers. She used a doll to demonstrate for jurors how she was assaulted.

The woman testified that on the night of Oct. 21, 2003, Downs injected her with something that made her sleepy and then put an unknown object in her rectum, causing her great pain.

Later that night, she said, Downs returned to her room and rubbed lotion on her legs and fondled her before penetrating her vaginally with his finger.

Downs took the stand in his own defense last week and steadfastly maintained his innocence. He suggested that the woman was confused and felt violated because he took her temperature rectally -- a procedure that he acknowledged was against hospital policy but that he said he felt was necessary to get an accurate reading.
After deliberating about 10 hours over two days, the jury convicted Downs on the first count, which dealt with the penetration of the victim's anus. But they failed to reach a decision on the second count, which accused Downs of vaginally penetrating the woman with his finger.

Angry over the verdict, Downs chose not to testify -- or allow anyone else to testify on his behalf -- to persuade the jury to give him probation or a light sentence.
"With all due respect, I'm a convicted pervert," Downs told the judge when she questioned him about his decision. "Now that they have proven me guilty, my life is over. What is probation going to do?

"Because of these lies, I am here! A nine-year [nursing] career is gone!"
Afterward, as jurors filed into the courtroom during the punishment phase, Downs refused to stand for the panel, which is proper etiquette in Berry's court.

When the bailiff ordered him to get up, Downs snapped: "Or what? I'm going to jail anyway."

When the jury members took their seats, Downs glared at them and shouted, "Wrong!"

The jurors declined to comment after the trial.

A lawsuit against Downs, Huguley Memorial Medical Center and Medical Staffing Network, the nursing contract company that sent Downs to Huguley, is pending.


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