There is no “direct evidence” a nurse raped a woman in a vegetative state despite his DNA being matched to the baby she later gave birth to, his lawyer said.
Nathan Sutherland, 36, was arrested on Wednesday when his DNA test result was found to match the baby that was born unexpectedly on 29 December.
The 29-year-old mother has been in long-term care since the age of three when she nearly drowned, and staff at the Hacienda HealthCare facility in Phoenix, Arizona, said they did not know she was pregnant.
All male staff were made to take a DNA test and Sutherland was arrested hours after he submitted his sample under court order on Tuesday.
The married father-of-four was charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse.
The licensed practical nurse refused to speak to police when he was arrested on Wednesday and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, refusing to testify in case he incriminates himself.
Nurse arrested in vegetative birth case
His lawyer, David Gregan, who described Sutherland as a Christian family man, said: “There’s no direct evidence that Mr Sutherland has committed these acts.
“I know at this point there’s DNA. But he will have a right to his own DNA expert.”
Investigators found that Sutherland had treated the victim and spent a lot of time with her, according to a probable cause statement.
They believe Sutherland, whose wife filed for divorce seven weeks ago, raped the patient between February and April.
Esella Burr, a former neighbour, said she lived next to him, his wife and children for more than five years and often saw them leaving for church on Sundays when they would occasionally chat.
“I can’t believe it. He told me he was a nurse and he liked his job,” she said.
Sutherland was fired by Hacienda after his arrest.
A statement from the company said: “Once again, we offer an apology and send our deepest sympathies to the client and her family, to the community and to our agency partners at every level.”
After the birth emerged, Hacienda’s CEO resigned and the company said one doctor who had cared for the woman resigned while another was suspended.
The woman was described as being in a vegetative state, but her parents released a statement saying she is intellectually disabled because of seizures in early childhood.
She does not speak but has some mobility in her limbs, head and neck, responds to sound and can make facial gestures, they added.
Sutherland did not enter a plea when he appeared in court on Wednesday and was set a $500,000 (£383,826) cash-only bond which, if he posts, means he will have to wear an electronic monitoring device.
The baby has been released from the hospital and the woman’s family have said they will care for him, Phoenix police spokesman Tommy Thompson said.