No Choice

During the first hours of what turned out to be a grueling 44-day trial, Brian Finkel said to no one in particular, "I'll be glad when this clown show is over."

That was vintage Finkel -- always the wise guy, cocksure, always in control.

Until last week, when the former gynecologist -- once best known as the king of the local abortion market -- was sentenced to almost 35 years in prison, convicted of 22 counts of sexually abusing his patients over more than a decade.

As of press time, Finkel was refusing all media interviews, according to jail officials. This from a man who once papered the waiting room of his clinic with articles about himself -- some not flattering.

The trial was serious, but, with Brian Finkel involved, often bordered on the absurd. One day in court, Finkel responded jocularly to a reporter's question during a recess about his plans for Halloween: "I'm going as a transvestite sex-crimes prosecutor."

The famed (or infamous, depending on your point of view) abortion doctor then gestured to Cindi Nannetti, a deputy county attorney who was co-prosecuting him.

Almost everyone around Finkel (mostly media, and a few supporters) chuckled. But a few feet away, Mark Stribling somberly jotted down the latest Finkelism on a piece of paper.

A retired homicide detective, Stribling now works as an investigator for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. He had been instrumental in piecing together the highly publicized case against Finkel, a task that included hundreds of interviews, false leads and hours of strategy sessions with the two case prosecutors.

Stribling expressed his disgust at how the 54-year-old defendant seemed to be thumbing his nose at the criminal justice system, and at his onetime patients turned alleged victims.

Those were the women who Finkel's defense attorney, Richard Gierloff, had dubbed "narcissistic, deliberately manipulative human beings" in his closing argument to the jury: a "mob which was created by the media . . . the Victim's Club." (Gierloff will be able to buy his way into whatever club he wants if Finkel ever remits the $200,000 in legal fees that court documents indicate he owes the barrister. That's on top of whatever Gierloff already has collected.)

During one court recess, Finkel looked at a woman who had been testifying against him, then whistled the melody to "If I Only Had a Brain."

To be sure, Finkel's conviction wasn't a certainty. It was a he-said, she-said case, with a twist: He said "she" had confused a proper medical examination with sexual contact. But the biggest hurdle for Finkel was that Judge Jeffrey Cates had allowed prosecutors to try their case with 35 "shes" all at once.

The consolidation of the cases, which the Finkel team strenuously opposed and will fight during his appeal, made the odds of an acquittal much longer.

Still, after sitting through 53 witnesses, including five days on the stand himself, and a 14-day jury deliberation, the doctor remained outwardly confident that he was going to walk.

Moments before the jury submitted its verdicts December 2, Finkel reportedly told Judge Cates in chambers that the judge didn't have to worry about the logistics in case of a conviction.

"I'm not going to come back here," he said.

Finkel was wrong. The jury did convict him on 22 sex-abuse counts involving 13 of the victims, and sheriff's deputies led him off to the county jail to await a January 2 sentencing.

During that month, adult probation officer Paddy McDonagh collected letters from Finkel supporters and detractors/victims.

From Diana Finkel, Brian Finkel's wife of 31 years and the former office manager of his abortion clinic: "Imagine achieving your life's career goal, becoming the best you can be, spending 30 years of your adult life enjoying personal and business successes, then having 35 strangers enter your life uninvited and pluck you out of your existence, as you know it, in one beat of the heart."

Finkel told probation officer McDonagh that a psychiatrist has diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, and that he's been taking antidepressant medication.

Concluded McDonagh, "The defendant appears to be a well-educated, intelligent medical practitioner, who has no prior contact with the criminal justice system and has attained success, as well as the admiration of others, which is obviously at odds with the behavior he exhibited during the present offenses."

At the end of a surprisingly brief hearing -- just one hour long -- Judge Cates sentenced Finkel to almost 35 years in prison. (There are first-degree murderers who get less.) Unless his appeal is successful, Finkel won't be eligible for parole until he's about 82.

The judge made it clear that he believes the jury did the right thing.

Moments after Cates left the bench, a middle-aged woman stepped quietly into the courtroom.

Prosecutors had flown in Annette Barber from her home in San Antonio that morning to testify against Finkel at the sentencing hearing, but she hadn't been able to make it to court on time.

Someone directed Barber's attention in the still-crowded courtroom to the handcuffed and shackled Finkel, who was being fingerprinted near the judge's bench.

"Oh, there he is," she said. "I haven't seen him in a long, long time. I wish someone would have done something when I complained about him back when."

Later, in an interview at the courtroom cafeteria, Barber told New Times that she hadn't even known Finkel had been arrested, much less that he had been on trial for sex-abuse charges, until a friend sent her a story about his December 3 conviction. She said she'd sent an e-mail that day to the Arizona Republic about her own experience with the doctor.

Prosecutors tell New Times that the Republic turned over the e-mail to them. Nothing has appeared in that paper, to date.

In the e-mail, a copy of which New Times obtained, Barber says she was the non-commissioned officer in charge of the OB/GYN clinic at Eglin Air Force Base, in northwest Florida, where Finkel -- then in the Air Force -- worked for a time. Now and then, Barber says, she would serve as a chaperone during pap smears and other female procedures.

Finkel routinely made her and his patients extremely uneasy, she wrote, then one time, "He was clearly inappropriate during a digital penetration exam, and the patient was also clearly uncomfortable. He asked her inappropriate questions about how it felt. When he left, she expressed that she felt violated."

Specifically, Barber says, she saw Finkel move his fingers in and out of the woman's vagina, simulating a sexual act.

Barber tells New Times that she'd complained to the hospital's chief nurse and chief administrator, and spoke with a colonel about Finkel.

She recalls, "This colonel told me, Sergeant Barber, you are making a very serious allegation against an officer and a gentleman, and a United States Air Force physician.' I told him that the young woman he'd done this to had a husband in the service and she was scared of what might happen to him if she reported it. But I was positive of what I'd seen, that I'd seen it with my own eyes."

Later that day, Barber says, Finkel came into her office and told her no one would believe her story and that she had better watch herself. Barber says she never again was allowed to chaperone one of Finkel's patients during a procedure.

"They totally swept it under the rug," she says. "I went about my business, and served another 15 years or so in the Air Force before I retired. But I never forgot this guy, and I've told this story many times over the years. This guy was abusive, physically and verbally, and I'm happy that he finally got brought to justice."

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