UPDATE: Former Merced dentist sentenced to 3 years’ prison for sexual battery

07/25/2014 12:01 PM

07/26/2014 8:29 PM

A tearful former Merced dentist received a three-year prison sentence Friday after pleading no contest earlier this year to sexually assaulting sedated female patients.

Sang Hyuk Park, 45, pleaded with Judge Mark V. Bacciarini to allow him to avoid prison and, with tears streaming down his face, asked for probation, but the judge denied his request.

“I ask for your mercy,” Park said. “I’ve learned a lot. I’m so sorry. I’m changed.”

Park was charged with groping and fondling four unconscious women between June 2011 and November 2012 at his Merced office, which has since closed.

Merced police believe the abuse may have dated to at least 2004, but those cases could not be pursued because the statute of limitations expired. Police identified at least half a dozen women who may have been victimized by Park.

In a letter to the court, one of his victims called Park a “selfish and disgusting person.”

“It kills me to think you could’ve done more to me than I can remember,” the woman wrote.

Park changed his plea in April, less than 30 minutes before his Merced Superior Court jury trial was scheduled to begin. He pleaded no contest to four counts of sexual battery on patients under anesthesia.

Park must register as a sex offender for life. He is banned from practicing medicine and dentistry.

The judge indicated he would sentence Park to three years in prison if Park pleaded no contest to one felony count for each of the victims in the complaint filed by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office. Park had been facing a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

Park will not appeal the sentence. He was taken into custody by the Merced County Sheriff’s Department immediately following Friday’s hearing. He likely will be eligible for parole after serving about 18 months, officials confirmed.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll, who prosecuted the case, said he was pleased the victims received justice without having to testify.

Carroll said some of the victims wanted Park to serve a longer prison term but supported the outcome to avoid testifying. “The victims are extremely grateful they did not have to tell their stories to strangers,” the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Thomas Johnson said Park was “extremely remorseful” and has “lost everything.” He acknowledged Park’s wrongdoing, but also described him as an accomplished man and a good father who worked hard and had no prior criminal record.

“He is a broken man. He’s irrevocably changed, and he’s terribly sorry,” Johnson said. “His life should not be defined by those acts.”

Park sedated the women, who ranged in age from their late teens to late 20s. He then would “find an excuse” to dismiss his assistants from the room and sexually abuse the patients, police said.

News of the sexual abuse surfaced in late 2012 when one of the women filed a police report.

On Oct. 22, 2012, investigators recorded a telephone conversation between one of the victims and Park. During that call, the former dentist admitted photographing the woman’s exposed body but claimed she consented. He said he later deleted the photographs, according to a report filed by Detective Raquel Rios of the Merced Police Department.

During the call admitted, Park exposing himself to the woman and making her touch his body, but denied drugging her. Park told the woman he wanted a “relationship” with her, although he was married, but she rejected him, the report says.

“I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have done it. I’m sorry,” Park says in the transcript of the phone call.

Park was arrested Oct. 30, 2012.

Several more women came forward after Park’s arrest was reported in the media, each describing similar experiences. Many victims were initially unsure what had happened, saying they believed they were “dreaming” or “hallucinating” when they were attacked, police said.

Carroll praised the work of the Merced Police Department and Rios, the lead investigator.

Rios said Park took advantage of victims who were particularly vulnerable under sedation. She praised the victims for coming forward, saying they all feared no one would believe them because of Park’s position of authority and trust.

“The fact he showed only remorse for himself demonstrates why his prison sentence is appropriate,” Rios said. “This case was all about the courage these women demonstrated.”

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