Disgraced ex-UCLA gynecologist James Heaps was sentenced to 11 years in prison Tuesday, nearly two years after he was indicted for sexually abusing his patients while working at the university.
Heaps, 66, has remained in custody since October, when a jury found him guilty of three counts of sexual battery by fraud and two counts of sexual penetration of two patients.
Heaps, a retired cancer specialist, appeared in a Burbank courtroom Tuesday wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, neat goatee and glasses. He did not testify or make any statements after he was sentenced by Judge Michael D. Carter.
While he was charged with 21 felony counts, Heaps was found not guilty of seven other counts, including one of sexual exploitation. Carter declared a mistrial on nine sex-related counts due to a deadlocked jury.
Jurors found that Heaps’ victims were particularly vulnerable and that he abused a position of trust as their doctor.
The assaults date from 2013 to 2017, the portion of his tenure that falls within the statute of limitations for which criminal charges could be brought.
The University of California system has agreed to pay nearly $700 million to settle lawsuits brought by hundreds of Heaps’ alleged victims.
Victims said in written statements they still suffer extreme anxiety and no longer trust male doctors because of the sexual abuse by Heaps.
“I’m still living with a lot of anxiety. I’ve gone to some very dark places in my thoughts,” Jane T. said in a written statement that was read in court before the sentencing.
Natalie B., one of the women Heaps was found guilty of abusing, said she gave birth to three daughters at the UCLA medical facility where Heaps worked.
“I was proud to be a patient there,” Natalie B. said in a statement read in court by a prosecutor. “It has been absolutely ruined. ... The defendant has made the place where my babies were born a traumatizing trigger.”
His victims trusted “their bodies and lives” to Heaps due to his reputation as a world-renowned cancer specialist, Carter said.
After he serves his sentence, Heaps will be required to register as a sex offender. He has already served more than a year in jail awaiting trial.
Prosecutors asked for a 13-year-prison sentence, the maximum amount of time under the convictions of which Heaps was found guilty.
Assistant Head Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers said Heaps sexually abused his patients out of arrogance, because he thought he could get away with it.
“We hold our doctors to a certain level of professionalism. We go to them with our most serious issues in life and we say to them: ‘Help us,’” Meyers said. “Now he’s got to face the music and pay for it.”
She took issue with the defense attorney’s claims that Heaps should be given a lower-end sentence.
“What the defendant did in this case was wrong,” Meyers said. “These victims suffered this wrong.”
Heaps’ defense attorneys asked the court to consider his extensive career as an oncologist and gynecologist.
“He gave a lot of his career to UCLA,” attorney Tracy Brown said before he was sentenced. “He’s someone who has done a lot of good in his life.”
“This is a blip in that career,” Brown said.
Before he was sentenced, Heaps asked for a new trial for multiple reasons, including his claim that he received ineffective advice from his attorney to not testify during the criminal trial and that could have changed the jury’s verdict.
Carter denied the request, ruling that an attorney would not be able to keep a client from testifying.
While his attorneys argued for a new trial before Carter, Heaps repeatedly wrote notes to his defense team and anxiously fidgeted in his chair.
He was denied probation after Carter heard arguments from the attorneys.
Despite years of complaints about Heaps, who treated about 6,000 patients during his tenure, it was not until late 2017 that allegations of sexual misconduct were reported to UCLA’s Title IX office and a formal investigation was opened.
Heaps was allowed to continue seeing patients — both during the investigation and after UCLA informed the doctor his contract would not be renewed when it expired on June 30, 2018. UCLA finally ended Heaps’ employment and notified the police of the allegations against him in June 2018.
Heaps was arrested a year later and charged with two counts of sexual battery by fraud and one count of sexual exploitation in connection with acts involving two patients. Until that arrest, UCLA had not made public or told former patients that a year before, Heaps had been investigated for sexual abuse. Subsequently, a grand jury indicted him on 21 felonies involving seven victims.
(Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Winton contributed to this report.)
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