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Medical researcher accused of sexual assault

Was a judge wrong when he sentenced a respected medical researcher to house arrest for an admitted sexual assault? MSNBC-TV's Dan Abrams talks with Carol Tracy of the Women's Law Project.

Tracy McIntosh, a leading researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, was accused of assaulting his college roommate’s 23-year-old niece in his office after drinking in several local bars.

The victim also believed McIntosh drugged her, though that was never proved.  McIntosh was charged with rape and other crimes.  The D.A.’s office negotiated a plea deal.  McIntosh pled guilty to sexual assault, a lesser felony, class two, and possession of a controlled substance.  He smoked marijuana with the victim before the assault. 

Prosecutors thought say they expected McIntosh would get at least two to three years in a state prison, but Judge Rayford Means sentenced him to fines, probation, and house arrest.  The D.A. is now appealing that sentence.  The D.A. was asked in court—quote—“Are you saying that if Mr. McIntosh were a truck driver or a mill worker, he wouldn’t have been treated this way?”  D.A. William Young responded that is patently obvious from this record. 

Carol Tracy is executive director of Pennsylvania’s Women’s Law Project joined ‘The Abrams Report’ to discuss the idea that McIntosh may have been let off easy because of his outstanding medical record.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, ‘THE ABRAMS REPORT’:  Is this as outrageous as it sounds? 


ABRAMS:  Tell me why. 

TRACY:  There’s no question about it.  In cases like this, one wants the law to really focus on the crime, the act itself, not the actor, and it sends a terrible message both about the administration of justice, but also about whether women are going to come forward if the person who has assaulted them is a person of power and position and privilege. 

ABRAMS:  This is what the victim had said in court.  I was raped and it was the most disgusting thing ever.  He took something from me that I will never get back.  It will affect me for the rest of my life and I don’t want this to happen to other women.  Now we should say that she apparently signed off on the plea deal that he get the lesser charge of sexual assault, but I don’t think anyone expected that that would mean no time behind bars, right? 

TRACY:  That’s right.  And you know, sexual assault is still a very serious charge, it’s a felony.  It’s a second-degree felony. 

ABRAMS:  Well and we say two to three years, actually the statute says it could be five to 10 years.  We were just saying as a practical matter, it was likely to be two to three years.  And remember this is a guy—we’re not questioning whether anything happened.  This is a quote from him. 

“My actions were inappropriate and I totally admit it.  I’m deeply sorry for my conduct.”  So it sounds like what you’re saying is the fact that he is this researcher with all of these awards, et cetera, led the judge to go soft on him. 

TRACY:  I don’t think there’s any question about that and it certainly sent shock waves through the community in Philadelphia, and it really begs the question that with—people have wondered about forever about why women don’t come forward to prosecute, to come forward in cases of sexual assault and domestic violence.  There’s a belief particularly if the person who has assaulted them is powerful, that justice won’t be done. 

ABRAMS:  We spoke with some former prosecutors in Pennsylvania and they said that some of the factors that made this case or would have made this case harder to prosecute is the fact that they were out drinking together, that was consensual, that they were apparently smoking pot consensually, but she’s also saying well, OK, fine, but I was also drugged, right?  And that wasn’t proven but that’s the allegation.

TRACY:  Well it wasn’t proven because it didn’t go to trial.  But there was certainly a lot of circumstantial evidence, including a woman sitting in one of these restaurant-bars and projectile vomiting and her description of just being in and out of consciousness, I mean, I think it would have gone to credibility, but I think that it may well have been proven if it had gone to trial and she was very clear that she did not consent to this. 

ABRAMS:  This guy is a 52-year-old physician, married, father of two, served as director of the Head Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania.  He received many awards and his research was funded by the National Institute of Health and the Veterans Administration.  Let’s remember why this college roommate’s niece was there, right?  I mean she was supposed to be there for what, advice and career counseling? 

TRACY:  Well, she was being admitted to a graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania, and apparently they were having dinner or drinks where he was talking to her about potentially working in his lab, so it was a personal and a professional context. 

ABRAMS:  So I mean, the point is that there’s also a sort of abuse of power here.  Has he been sanctioned by any of the professional organizations, et cetera? 

TRACY:  Not that I’m aware of.  I mean, he resigned from the University of Pennsylvania. 

ABRAMS:  Because if you don’t know, we’ll find out exactly what happens to this guy.  But the judge, you think, just saw this guy’s resume and said, oh, well, you know, he’s working with the National Institute of Health and he’s done so much, et cetera? 

TRACY:  I think so.  It’s inexplicable.  This isn’t a judge that has this, you know, particularly lenient reputation in the city.  It’s perplexing to everyone that this happened.  And there’s no question that he was a very important scientist. 

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you a broader question.  I guess I’m often surprised at how lenient many of the sentences are for forcible rape.  I mean this was not—again, this was sexual assault, it’s considered a lesser crime, but just in general, I’m always surprised that when people are convicted of forcing themselves on a woman, whatever you call it, sexual assault, rape, et cetera, that they’re not getting that much time. 

TRACY:  You’re absolutely right.  It’s stunning.  It is the second most serious crime when the uniform crime code lists it right under murder.  It’s an incredibly serious crime.  It’s a terrible invasion of a person’s body and invasion of a person’s bodily integrity and autonomy.  It’s a terrible, terrible crime.  But apparently the sentencing around it is very lenient and in this case, it could have been as little as two years.  And again the only difference between the first degree and second degree—the first-degree rape and the second-degree felony sexual assault is violence. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Right.

TRACY:  There wasn’t any additional violence such as a gun or knifepoint and those kinds of issues but it’s very serious.

ABRAMS:  Total sidetrack here, do you agree with me that it’s ridiculous to make a comparison between this teacher, this 23-year-old teacher who had sex with her 14-year-old student in cases of where a man is forcing himself on a woman? 

TRACY:  I don’t know that it’s ridiculous.  I think they’re two very difficult issues.  But I do think that the comparison is different.  I mean, in that case, for whatever reasons, the district attorney couldn’t proceed apparently because the witness, and it’s also important to understand that there are hundreds, probably thousands of cases each day in courts throughout the United States where prosecution does not occur in domestic violence and sexual assault cases. 

And that’s exactly my point.  Is those are the cases we need to be concerned about.  The fact that there’s an isolated case of some attractive female teacher is having sex with her 14-year-old student to me is not a national problem.  What you’re talking about is. 

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.