Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Atrocity: Surgeon went to prison after his accuser and her boyfriend lied on the stand

In 2007, Labeed Nouri, then-36-years-old, had a wife and four children and a thriving medical practice as an orthopedic surgeon in Michigan. He was vice president of the church council at St. Toma Syriac Catholic Church where he worshipped. A Chaldean who had emigrated from Iraq in 2003, Dr. Nouri often treated other Chaldeans in his tight-knit community.

In late May 2007, one of Dr. Nouri's Chaldean patients asked Nouri if he would hire his 19-year-old daughter. Dr. Nouri and his wife, Rouwaida Nouri, who managed his medical practice, agreed to hire the young woman for two days a week to help with filing in their medical office.

On June 22, 2007, on just her sixth day of work, the young woman alleged that sometime between 7:15 and 7:23 p.m., Dr. Nouri sexually assaulted her with his hand in an exam room. How was the young woman sure of the time? She said she noticed the times on clocks in the office and in her car when she left. At 7:33 p.m., she called her boyfriend in a parking lot 2 miles from the office, and told him she had been assaulted. 

The woman's parents took her to police and to a hospital. She refused to allow a rape exam, saying she was a virgin and such an exam would "un-virginize me," records show.

Records eventually obtained by the defense showed that Dr. Nouri was in his office from 7:06 to 7:27 p.m., continuously dictating over the phone to a medical dictation firm.

Charges were brought against Dr. Nouri. If convicted, he would likely serve many years in prison. The accuser and her boyfriend testified at trial. Defense lawyers tried to show that the young woman had concocted the story because she had been sexually active and was trying to cover up her loss of virginity. The woman was from a conservative Chaldean Catholic family, and virginity is highly prized in their faith. 

The woman and her boyfriend repeatedly claimed on the witness stand that she was a virgin, a central issue in the case.

Initially, the jury was hung, with jurors twice asking to review the accuser's testimony. On July 2, 2008, they found Nouri guilty.

After the verdict, Dr. Nouri's defense counsel asked jurors how they thought Dr. Nouri could have been dictating over the phone at the same time his accuser claimed he had been assaulting her. Jurors said that since they couldn't reconcile the time line, they chose to disregard it. "They said they then just decided to go by their gut," said Dr. Nouri's defense counsel.

Dr. Nouri was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison for sexual assault convictions .

While Dr. Nouri was incarcerated, he was repeatedly assaulted by fellow prisoners. His nose was broken and his teeth were cracked. He was hospitalized for three days and received stitches to his face, according to a federal lawsuit filed against Oakland County. (Oakland County corporation counsel Keith Lerminiaux acknowledged that Nouri had been assaulted in the jail but said he was the aggressor in one of the attacks.)

One day in late 2010, while Dr. Nouri sat in a prison cell, his accuser's boyfriend spotted Dr. Nouri's wife and four children and was suddenly overcome with guilt.  It turns out the young man had lied about his sexual history with the accuser and wanted to make amends.  The young man went to Dr. Nouri's attorney and admitted that he and the accuser had been sexually active for months leading up to the allegation and that they lied on the witness stand.

Dr. Nouri's attorney asked the man to secretly record conversations with the accuser. The man met with her in March, and while recording their conversation, he told her he was worried private investigators were looking into the perjury. The accuser, according to the attorney and prosecutors who have heard the recording, admitted she lied on the stand but instructed the man to keep denying it if he's questioned.  She told him that if authorities discover credit card receipts showing she was at local motels, she will say she lent the card to a friend. She also discussed feigning a mental breakdown so she would be hospitalized, a tactic she says she hoped would discourage a continued investigation.

By this time, Dr. Nouri had served more than three years behind bars. Prosecutors, noting Nouri had been convicted, offered him a deal: If he pleaded no contest to a low-level misdemeanor assault -- with no probation-reporting requirements and no restrictions on obtaining his medical license -- he could be free within hours and get it expunged after five years. It took Nouri, who was sitting in a prison cell at the Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula, two days to agree. "I'm thinking, 'No, I didn't do anything,' " he recalled. "But then I think, 'I take this and I can see my kids in a day or two.' I hadn't seen them in three years. I took it."  The choice was really no choice at all: "Which one would you choose? Be in jail for something you didn't do or go immediately?" Nouri said. "We will fight the very minor misdemeanor." Dr. Nouri was removed from the sex offender registry.

Now, another lie has surfaced. When Dr.Nouri was sentenced to prison in April 2010, the judge read a letter signed by his accuser's priest.  "A young girl has had her youth stolen," the letter read. "I have told her to forgive Labeed Nouri. She has forgiven him, but she needs closure on this terrible ordeal. ... It is time to grant her wish of getting her justice and put Labeed Nouri in jail where he deserves to be."

It turns out the pastor denies writing the letter. "I have never written any letter," Kejbou told a Detroit newspaper. "Anybody can forge a signature."

Dr. Nouri's accuser, who continues to maintain she was sexually assaulted, has become a licensed practical nurse. She is not named in the newspaper accounts because she has not been charged with a crime.

And now, Dr. Nouri is on a mission: he's trying to get his accuser charged with perjury. "She took three years from me," he said. "I can never get them back. My youngest daughter was a baby when I went away. I never saw her first step, heard her say her first word. It's my turn for justice." 

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, who dropped felony charges against Nouri and sought his release from prison when she learned of the perjury, said she is awaiting police reports before deciding whether to file any charges against the woman. "We moved heaven and earth to get him out immediately when we learned of this," Cooper said.