A 62-year-old Conway doctor accused in a 2016 sex-crime case is now charged with fewer and lesser charges.
Robert Burl Rook was charged with 27 sex crimes — 13 counts each of rape and second-degree sexual assault along with one count of third-degree sexual assault — until Tuesday, when James Barrett, who is special prosecutor in the case, amended the criminal information. Rook, who is set to stand trial in May, is now faced with 11 counts of second-degree sexual assault and 10 counts of third-degree sexual assault.
"After much consideration ... we have decided to amend the felony information to include lesser offenses," Barrett said in Faulkner County Circuit Court on Wednesday.
Patrick Benca, who represents Rook, did not object to the change and maintains his client "is innocent of all charges."
Along with the amendment came a motion in limine asking that Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson Jr. bar the defense from mentioning the change in charges against Rook during trial.
"In light of this amendment, the State hereby asserts that any mention of the amendment would be improper, irrelevant and prejudicial to the state," the motion reads. "As such, it is the State's position that the court should enter an Order precluding any mention of the amendment of the criminal information."
Also during Wednesday's pretrial hearing, Clawson said he wanted to hear further arguments from both the defense counsel and prosecutors regarding the legitimacy of including witness and victims' mental health history when determining witness credibility during trial.
Barrett said that "anything prior or post [Rook's] treatment is a violation of [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] HIPA" and objects to including witnesses' personal medical information.
"These are going to be witnesses like everyone else ... there's no reason to display their medical history," he said.
Defense Attorney John Kennedy said he believes this information is pertinent to the trial and considering whether witnesses' are credible to testify.
According to a motion filed in February by the defense counsel, the defense is asking prosecutors to provide the criminal, health and psychiatric histories of each witness.
In its motion, the defense specifies a request for "certified copies of any disease, condition, or defect that reasonably brings into question any witnesses credibility; the post-diagnosis medication regiment prescribed by any potential witness's [health care] provider; and the names, work addresses and phone numbers of any and all psychiatric staff members who have evaluated any potential witnesses mental condition ... [and] copies of any mental disease, condition, or defect that reasonably brings into question any witness credibility."
Kennedy said having this knowledge of each witness will help determine the truth to each witness' testimony, noting it wasn't fair for prosecutors to only provide health information pertaining to their history with Rook and not include any diagnoses these witnesses may have previously received.
Before making a ruling on the matter, Clawson said he would prefer to review briefings filed by both parties regarding arguments for and against including each witness' health history during trial. Briefings must be submitted to Clawson's office by April 1 and he will make his ruling by April 15.
Along with the motion in limine filed by prosecutors, Clawson said he will also make a formal ruling on a motion in limine requested by the defense by April 15.
The defense has asked prosecutors not refer to witnesses as victims during trial.
Rook was initially charged with three counts each of rape and second-degree sexual assault in June 2016 after three women said the Conway doctor touched them inappropriately at his clinic, Conway Family Practice Clinic at 919 Locust St. Additional charges in his case were filed in September 2016.
One woman said Rook gave her a breast exam without a nurse in the exam room and described it as “not the typical breast exam like she had always undergone by her gynecologist” and said it lasted three to five minutes, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The woman told police she believed what had occurred was inappropriate and that she contacted the state medical licensing board as well as police. This was in October 2015.
Another woman described three visits within a four-week period in which she reported “she felt that the exams done by Rook were very odd, but she said she believed at the time that he was really trying to treat her medical condition and she did not question what he was doing.”
When investigators subpoenaed any complaints filed against Rook with the state medical board, they discovered one filed by the mother of one of Rook’s patients, alleging the doctor fueled her daughter’s Xanax abuse in exchange for sexual contact.
In January, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers and Conway Police Department investigators interviewed the patient and her mother, noting in the affidavit that the patient “was slow to open up to us.”
She ended up telling authorities Rook gave her prescriptions in exchange for sexual contact, including two instances of oral sex, according to the affidavit.
Rook's two-week trial is set to begin May 14 in Faulkner County Circuit Court.