FARMINGTON — Dr. Nathan Clark Ward pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual abuse of a child Thursday, then promptly withdrew that plea after learning how the judge planned to sentence him.
Now the longtime Bountiful gynecologist accused of sexually abusing a girl in Davis County is headed to trial.
As part of a plea bargain and in exchange for a guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend that Ward serve a 15-years-to-life prison term concurrent with a 22-year federal prison sentence he began serving last month from a separate case.
But 2nd District Judge Thomas Kay said the case was too serious for him to follow prosecutors' recommendation.
"I think it's too serious to do this concurrently,” Kay said.
Ward, 56, was ordered last month to serve 262 months in a federal prison in Colorado for streaming video of the same girl as he removed her clothing. On Thursday, moments after he pleaded guilty to a state court charge of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony, Ward's attorney Ed Brass withdrew the plea.
The development prolongs a case that the girl's family believed would reach a final resolution Thursday. She and her mother quickly left the courtroom with other family members after the judge set a pretrial court hearing for Aug. 9.
Given the doctor's strong reputation, the judge asked Ward, "How could this have ever happened?"
"Unfortunately, I dabbled with pornography a long time ago and it's something that I've tried to kick, and it has led me down a slippery slope to hell," Ward responded. He said his behavior "has destroyed the family that I had" and also let others down, including patients he cares for deeply.
"What I'm trying to do is go through a repentance process for myself," Ward added. "I’ve held onto my religion. And I’m working hard. It’s going to be a very long road. I'm working hard to get back to the person that I can be. I try to be a help to those I'm around in the prison system as best I can."
The judge said he hopes Ward could be rehabilitated by the time the initial 22-year sentence ends, but the gravity of the case warrants extra prison time.
"You could argue, well there was one victim, but there’s multiple victims," Kay said. "There’s the family, there’s all the people you say you need to make this up to."
The girl's mother told the judge earlier in the hearing that "the pain and trauma that this caused is unbearable" and said Ward "never deserves to walk free."
Reading from a statement with her daughter at her side, she continued, "He’s managed to shatter our family." In his practice of more than 25 years, the doctor held the lives of several women and babies in his hands, she said, adding that they were “the very hands he abused with.”
The Deseret News typically does not identify victims of sexual crimes and is withholding the mother's name to avoid identifying the teen.
Brass emphasized that his client retains support from family members. Ward's children have attended each hearing in the Davis County and federal cases, he said.
"In spite of the harm he's caused, which he fully recognizes, these people love him very much and are going to stand by him through whatever time he serves in the future," Brass said.
After the hearing, Brass said he respects the judge and acknowledges Kay had the discretion to order consecutive prison terms, but he opposed the combined sentence that would land his client in prison for at least 37 years. Under such a term, Ward would be 93 years old before he could be eligible for release.
Ward, who also specialized in obstetrics, is charged with 11 felonies accusing him of sexually abusing the 13-year-old girl three times from 2012-2015, according to charging documents. Prosecutors said he had "a position of special trust" to the girl.
In exchange for Ward pleading guilty to the one charge, prosecutors had agreed to drop 10 other charges, including sodomy on a child and forcible sodomy, first-degree felonies; plus two counts of forcible sex abuse and six counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree felonies.
The charges also say that "between January and September 2016, (Ward) possessed, viewed or shared at least six images of child pornography."
He was suspended from Bountiful's Lakeview Hospital following his first arrest.
Police began investigating in November 2016 when uploads of possible sexually exploitative images of children were detected at the hospital, according to a police affidavit.
Ward first was arrested in 2017 and accused of discussing raping teen girls and describing "desires to rape females and minors," according to the affidavit.