A circuit judge on Wednesday approved a special prosecutor’s request to question witnesses in a local doctor’s upcoming trial about the presence of exam gowns in their exam rooms.
Robert Burl Rook was initially accused in 2016 of rape and sexual assault. The charges were later lessened by a special prosecutor assigned to the case to include second- and third-degree assault charges.
During a trial held in Faulkner County Circuit Court last year, the long-time Conway doctor was found not guilty of eight of the charges filed against him. However, the jury was hung and unable to reach a verdict regarding the remaining counts.
Special Prosecuting Attorney Jason Barrett is pursing the remaining charges — five counts of second-degree sexual assault and three counts of third-degree sexual assault — against the now-64-year-old doctor. A three-day jury trial is set to begin in August.
Following a brief hearing on Friday, Circuit Judge Charles “Ed” Clawson Jr. said he needed more time to consider the arguments by Barrett and defense attorney Patrick Benca regarding possible testimony of the presence of exam gowns in Rook’s patients’ exam rooms.
While testimony regarding the gowns was not allowed in the first trial, Barrett said he believes the issue should be brought back up during Rook’s retrial because Benca had said during his closing arguments last year that the lack of said testimony on the matter helped depict his client’s innocence.
“At the earlier trial, this Court made a determination that certain evidence regarding the presence of exam gowns was inadmissible evidence in the case,” Barrett’s motion for reconsideration on the motion in limine reads in part. “The Court reasoned that there was not a sufficient temporal relationship between the gowns and the victims, making the evidence not relevant under the rules of evidence. However, in closing arguments, the defense counsel argued that a lack of testimony about the presence of gowns was evidence of the defendant’s innocence.”
Clawson filed a ruling shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday in the prosecution’s favor.
The circuit judge ruled that “the evidence regarding the presence of gowns in the exam rooms, when there had been a female patient but no physical exam was to be completed or no chaperone had been present, is relevant and will be admissible as evidence at trial.”
Should any other motions regarding the long-time Conway doctor’s upcoming retrial be filed, attorneys on both sides of the matter will meet for a final pretrial hearing on July 9. Rook’s retrial will be held Aug. 14-16 in Faulkner County Circuit Court.