Victims' stories -
Women tell of abuse by doctor
REXBURG _ After years of
silence, the women abused by Dr. LaVar Withers finally had their day in court.
A dozen victims, many of whom had come to court just to watch, seized their
chance to take the stand and tell their story.
As the plea agreement was being settled, special prosecutor Dan Hawkley
circulated a sign-up sheet through the crowded courtroom, seeking volunteers to
testify in the hurried-up sentencing hearing.
Most were not regular patients of the Rexburg doctor. In emergencies, they went
to his office seeking medical attention, but instead, they found themselves
groped and humiliated. They took turns describing how someone they were supposed
to trust took advantage of them.
The earliest account of abuse recounted Monday dates back to the winter of 1965.
Carol Hannah said she went to the doctor for a bad cold. Once he was alone with
her, the doctor fondled her breasts and ran his hand up her leg to her crotch,
she testified. When she went to the police, she said, she was told that because
of other stressful factors in her life, she was not coherent.
They kinda laughed at me," she said.After 30 years, what Hannah wanted most
was an apology.
I would like LaVar Withers to get up and say he's sorry for what he did."
Sherry Fullmer, of Rexburg, saw the doctor 10 years ago when she was
hospitalized for pneumonia. She was breast-feeding her infant when Withers came
in and stood at the foot of the hospital bed, she said.
Fullmer said she became nervous at the sight of the doctor. I had heard rumors
of your reputation of being a boob doctor," she said, directing her comment
at a stone-faced Withers.
She then told the court how Withers approached her and stuck his hand down the
front of her hospital gown. When he did this he told her there was enough milk
in her breasts for two babies, she said.
Neil Rasmussen, whose daughter was named as the victim in the original felony
charge against Withers, took the stand briefly, saying Your honor, my daughter
was molested by Dr. Withers," before the defense objected to third-party
Laverne Rasmussen took the stand because she had witnessed the doctor fondle her
13-year-old daughter's breasts while he was supposed to be treating her for
abdominal pains. Withers asked the teen-age girl if she had ever had breast
cancer, Rasmussen said.
Sandy Brinton was a teen-ager when she went to see Withers for a leg injury she
sustained during high school drill team practice.
We are placing the blame where it belongs, not on our heads anymore," said
She said she was confused by the doctor's actions when he penetrated her vagina
with his finger.
This man has stolen the innocence away from so many of us."
She said she had no idea why a doctor would do such a thing.
All I know is that I felt dirty and humiliated, so much so that I never told
anyone until almost 20 years later," she testified, her voice shaking.
Tee Andrew, of Menan, went to see the doctor for migraine headache medication in
early 1995. Instead, she said the doctor fondled her breasts under her
Andrew said she was stunned by what happened.
In my mind I was trying to deal with the reality of what had just
happened," said Andrew. Then she went to the medical board and the police.
I also felt very fervently in my heart that I was not his first victim,"
Now Andrew says she cannot be alone in a room with a doctor, and has been to
only one doctor since. During that visit, she urged a nurse to stay in the room
with her. She received an answering machine message from Withers about his
conduct, which he described on the tape as a misunderstanding," Andrew
Beverly Rietz, of Rexburg, recounted how a severe upper respiratory problem in
1993 kept her from making the trip to her usual doctor in Idaho Falls and landed
her in Withers' examination room. The doctor put his hands under her shirt and
fondled her breasts, she said.
I was so shocked, I can't tell you. And I thought `How could he?' and I used the
word ``pervert,'' `do this to me,'" Rietz testified.
In January 1993, Marlene Shirley was called to the emergency room after her
teen-age daughter injured her knee skiing. A nurse took her to the room her
daughter was in and opened the door. Shirley testified she saw her child's
breasts being fondled.
Then I saw the look of horror on my daughter's face," she said. The nurse
quickly pulled the door closed and refused to let Shirley in to see the girl,
she testified. Afterward, Shirley, who is married to an FBI agent, was
determined to file charges against the doctor, but she was intimidated by a
prominent citizen of Rexburg, whom she did not name, and by the community in
general, she said.
My daughter was in a lose/lose situation," Shirley said. She saw that both
going public and remaining silent would hurt the girl.
Her answer was to remain silent for two years until she read a newspaper article
on a young college student who had filed a lawsuit against Withers.
I had to testify to what I saw Dr. Withers do to my daughter, no matter what the
consequences," she said. She said she has had to live with the pain of
seeing her child being abused and doing nothing.
Seven years ago, Elizabeth Stephenson, of Rexburg, was new to town and her
regular doctor was not available to treat a throat problem. Withers placed a
stethoscope on her breast, fondling and massaging her breasts, she said. The
fondling continued when he listened to her lungs.
When she went home, a neighbor asked her if she had the breast exam that goes
along with a visit from Withers. She told me that it was common knowledge in the
community," she testified.
Later, when her 5-year-old daughter became ill, she returned to Withers,
thinking a small child would be safe. She testified that she saw the doctor hold
the girl between his legs, pressing her to his groin and rubbing her body.
She asked the judge to punish Withers to the full extent of the law.
Part of our hurt has come from people not believing us," she said, and
asked for public acknowledgment of what had happened.
In addition, two teen-age girls took turns testifying about the fondling they
One 17-year-old St. Anthony girl told how she was groped when she was 14 years
old during a doctor's visit for a throat problem. She was confused by what
happened and waited until that night to tell her mother about it.
When my mother got home I asked her if he had the right to do that," she
A Rexburg teen-ager said the same thing happened to her when she was 15 years
old and seeking help for an ear infection. I was dumbstruck, I couldn't find the
words to tell him `No,'" she said.
After an objection from the defense was overruled, the prosecution called its
last witness. Deanna Richardson, who now lives in a homeless shelter in Chicago.
She said she was raped by the doctor during a gynecological exam in 1980.
Afterward he kissed me on the cheek and told me I was beautiful," she said.