LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A former UCLA campus gynecologist convicted of sex- related charges involving two patients was sentenced Wednesday to 11 years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender upon his release.
Superior Court Judge Michael Carter handed down the sentence hours after rejecting a motion for a new trial for James Mason Heaps, 66, who was convicted last Oct. 20 by a downtown Los Angeles jury on three counts of sexual battery by fraud and two counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person.
Those charges involved two patients, with jurors finding that those victims were particularly vulnerable and that Heaps had abused a position of trust.
Heaps was acquitted of three counts each of sexual penetration of an unconscious person and sexual battery by fraud, and one count of sexual exploitation of a patient -- with those charges involving two other patients.
Carter declared a mistrial on the remaining nine counts -- three counts of sexual battery by fraud, four counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person and two counts of sexual exploitation of a patient. Attorneys are scheduled to be back in court Aug. 7 for a hearing at which prosecutors are expected to announce if they will retry Heaps on those counts.
Another hearing was also set May 11 to hear a defense request that Heaps be allowed to post bail and be released from custody pending the defense's appeal of his case. Heaps has been behind bars since his October conviction.
During Wednesday's sentencing hearing, Deputy District Attorney Rosa Zavala read statements from the two victims involving the charges on which he was convicted.
One victim, identified only as Natalie B., said the case has been "a long and painful journey."
"I am relieved that it is finally coming to an end. I was abused by the defendant in 2017, also reported the abuse immediately and since have been vigorously pursuing justice," she wrote in the statement. "Being a victim of sexual assault has completely altered my life."
She said she felt "completely violated and unprotected" and that Heaps has "made the place where my babies were born at a depressing, traumatizing trigger."
The second victim, identified only as Jane T., said in her statement, "Never in my life would I have thought that I could be a victim of sexual abuse, especially by a trusted medical professional."
She said she believed he should serve "every single day" of a maximum sentence.
Heaps' attorney, Tracy Green, argued that he should be granted probation, describing his long history as a doctor who "has done a lot of good in his life." Green noted that Heaps came from a poor family, overcame dyslexia, survived cancer and "has done a lot of good in his life."
Green said the case was not "your typical sexual assault case," saying it was an unusual case that involved the patients' belief that a medical exam was "sexualized." She also accused prosecutors of trying to make the facts of the case "more explosive" and "more incendiary."
Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers deflected those claims.
"What the defendant did in this case was wrong, wrong," Meyers said. "... No matter which way you look at it, it was a violation of the law."
The judge noted before pronouncing sentence that he had received at least 75 character letters on Heaps' behalf, and conceded that Heaps was "by all accounts a world-renowned gynecologist specializing in oncology." He said the letters sent on behalf of the defendant were filled with stories about him saving the lives of his patients.
"But this reputation also serves as an aggravating factor because it caused the victims in this case to entrust their bodies and lives to him," Carter said. "It was because of this reputation that he was able to take advantage of the vulnerable position that these victims were in."
Outside court after the sentencing, Heaps' trial attorney, Leonard Levine, told reporters, "Well, we're disappointed, obviously. We were disappointed when the verdict came in. He was convicted of five of 21 counts, but that's five too many and this case will now be on appeal."
Levine -- whose advisement for Heaps not to testify during his trial came under attack by Heaps' new appellate attorney -- said the defense is hopeful that Heaps' conviction will be overturned.
Meanwhile, Zavala told reporters, "I think this trial has demonstrated to women who are victims of sexual assault or sexual abuse to come forward, that we believe in them, we trust in them and that they should be courageous to face their abusers in court."
Heaps was indicted in May 2021 on charges involving the seven female patients. He surrendered his medical license in March.
Heaps -- who was ordered in 2019 to "cease and desist from the practice of medicine as a condition of bail" after he was first charged that year -- served as a gynecologist/oncologist, affiliated with UCLA, for nearly 35 years. At various times, he saw patients at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and at his office at 100 Medical Plaza.
At one time, he was reportedly the highest paid physician in the UC system and had treated about 6,000 patients, attorneys said.
More than 500 lawsuits were filed against Heaps and UCLA, accusing the school of failing to protect patients after becoming aware of the misconduct.
Last May, attorneys for 312 former patients of Heaps announced the $374 million settlement of abuse lawsuits against the University of California.
The settlement came on top of a $243.6 million resolution of lawsuits involving about 200 patients announced in February 2022, and a $73 million settlement of federal lawsuits previously reached involving roughly 5,500 plaintiffs.
The lawsuits alleged that UCLA actively and deliberately concealed Heaps' sexual abuse of patients. UCLA continued to allow Heaps to have unfettered sexual access to female patients -- many of whom were cancer patients -- at the university, plaintiffs' attorneys alleged in the lawsuits.
UCLA issued a statement last May saying, "This agreement, combined with earlier settlements involving other plaintiffs, resolves the vast majority of the claims alleging sexual misconduct by James Heaps, a former UCLA Health physician.
"The conduct alleged to have been committed by Heaps is reprehensible and contrary to our values. We are grateful to all those who came forward, and hope this settlement is one step toward providing some level of healing for the plaintiffs involved.
"We are dedicated to providing the highest quality care that respects the dignity of every patient. We are taking all necessary steps to ensure our patients' well-being in order to maintain the public's confidence and trust," the statement continued.