The retrial against a long-time Conway doctor resumes at 9 a.m. Thursday in Faulkner County Circuit Court after attorneys addressed the jury with opening statements Wednesday afternoon.
Robert Burl Rook, 64, is accused of molesting several female patients through the years. He was initially charged with rape and sexual assault in 2016. However, charges against the family doctor were lessened to second- and third-degree sexual assault two weeks before the 2018 trial began.
Despite the testimony of nine former patients during the May 2018 trial, the jury ultimately found Rook was not guilty of eight of the 16 sexual assault allegations against him. A hung verdict ultimately led to a mistrial for the other eight counts against Rook.
Jason Barrett, who is the special prosecuting attorney assigned to the case, moved to pursue the remaining eight charges and the re-trial began Wednesday morning.
The prosecution and defense counsel worked to select a jury of eight men and four women and at 3:30 p.m., Barrett gave the prosecution’s opening remarks.
The alleged victims in this case not only were sexually abused by Rook, but the trust they had for their doctor was also taken for granted, he said.
“This case is about sexual abuse,” Barrett said. “And, sexual abuse is personal.”
As he addressed the newly-selected jury Wednesday afternoon, Barrett spoke of the hardships one of the alleged victims was going through when Rook reportedly began abusing her.
The woman’s “life got turned upside down” after her daughter committed suicide in July 2015. Following her daughter’s death, the woman began experiencing chest pains and also had other health problems associated with the stress and grief she carried. Eventually, she sought treatment at Dr. Rook’s office.
However, the types of treatment she received were “not medical procedures,” Barrett said. During some of the woman’s visits at Rook’s office, the doctor allegedly “penetrated her vagina with his fingers” and at other times would “massage her breasts from behind.”
“These are not normal medical procedures,” Barrett said.
The prosecutor told jurors they could expect to hear testimony from one of Rook’s former employees who left the Conway doctor’s office because “she had concerns.”
When it came down to it, Barrett said that “Rook was in a position of trust and he abused that trust.”
Defense Attorney Patrick Benca said he disagreed with the prosecution’s stance.
Rook’s attorney said the alleged victim had ample opportunity to address Rook’s employees about the allegations but never said anything.
Regarding the office layout, Benca said there are “safeguards” in place to know who is at the doctor’s office and where at all times. This is due to the amount of patients Rook sees each day. This tracking system allows the office to function smoothly with anywhere between 30-40 patients coming in and out each day while also holding the staff accountable, he said.
Benca also said he did not think the alleged victim was being truthful with Conway detectives.
“[The alleged victim] said she wouldn’t go back during her interview with [Detective Melissa] Smith, but then went back,” he said.
The defense attorney maintained his client’s innocence and asked the jury to listen to all evidence and testimony presented in the case over the next two days.
“Dr. Rook was not touching her inappropriately. He was just doing his job,” Benca said.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.