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Man accused of raping comatose woman has history as sexual predator

February 9, 1997 GMT

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ In his first day at the Genesee Hospital in October 1994, nurse’s aide John Horace was accused of making lewd remarks to a mentally ill patient.

He was dismissed, but no one pressed charges _ not the woman, not her family and not Horace’s employer, an agency that supplies temporary nursing staff.

None of them knew Horace had previously lost two jobs for alleged sexual misconduct. And none of this showed up in his employment record when he was hired by a nursing home for the severely disabled in August 1995.

Five weeks later, Westfall Health Care Center fired Horace for fondling a 49-year-old multiple sclerosis patient. Then on New Year’s Eve, the center informed police of a discovery much more startling _ a 29-year-old woman in a chronic vegetative state since 1985 was four months pregnant.

Horace, 53, goes on trial Monday on charges of raping the woman, who delivered a healthy boy two months prematurely last March. It was the first known case in which a woman was impregnated and gave birth while in a comalike state. If convicted, Horace could get 32 years in prison.

For law-enforcement and health-care authorities, the case highlights a largely unrecognized problem: the vulnerability of nursing-home patients to abuse.

``So many employees are falling through the cracks and ending up back in a setting where our most vulnerable citizens are being entrusted to them,″ says New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco.

His office receives at least 1,000 patient-abuse complaints each year. About one-quarter of the 30 nursing-home workers prosecuted in 1995 already carried criminal records, in some cases for harming patients, he says.

A proposed law aimed at making patient abuse a felony would require all employees to be fingerprinted and open the state’s centralized criminal database to health-care operators. It stalled in legislative committee last year, but Vacco hopes it will pass this year.

Making job applicants’ criminal histories accessible might begin to solve ``the overall problem of abusers moving from one job to another without employers knowing there’s an abusive history,″ Vacco says.

Horace _ tall, fastidiously groomed and possessed of a certain elegance and charm _ had begun posing as a sex therapist at least six months before joining Westfall, offering in ads to perform gynecological exams at his home. Arrested a month after leaving the suburban nursing home, but before the pregnancy was revealed, he pleaded guilty last spring to impersonating a doctor and offering examinations without a license. He drew six months in prison.

Horace had earlier lost a home health aide job for propositioning an invalid’s wife and a hospital job for peeking under stall doors in a women’s restroom and sending sexually explicit letters to a nurse who’d spurned him, investigators say.

``He’s one of these people who sort of danced on the rim, like propositioning somebody _ obnoxious yes, immoral probably, illegal not necessarily,″ says one investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity.

``Most of the complaints against him were handled internally, usually by his being terminated or resigning,″ he says. ``Would employers or victims really want to go through the time and embarrassment of calling the police and going to court for something that would result in a minimal punishment? Probably not.″

Abusers commonly escape detection by simply failing to list a previous employer. And some employers pass along only scant details about workers they eject for alleged abuse.

Instead of worrying ``about their exposure to a lawsuit, employers should worry about the next person the offender is going to take advantage of,″ says John Parrinello, an attorney for the rape victim’s family.

Severely injured in a car crash, the woman is unlikely to have had any awareness of the rape, pregnancy or birth, neurologists say. The child, now 11 months old, is being raised by his maternal grandmother, who is expected to be one of the first to testify.

The defense unsuccessfully challenged the validity of DNA tests of Horace’s blood. Prosecutors say DNA analysis establishes Horace as the father to a certainty of 100 million to one.

Defense lawyer Yolanda Villa did not return telephone calls seeking comment.