NASHUA — With a strained voice and trembling hands, a New Hampshire woman stood in court Tuesday and compared her former Valley Regional Hospital doctor, Eric Knight, to cult leaders Jim Jones and Charles Manson.
“They all used God to control people,” she said. “I was told every day the more suffering I could endure was for a better next life.”
The woman spoke in the middle of a three-hour sentencing hearing for Knight in Hillsborough County Superior Court Tuesday.
It was last March when Knight, a former family practice physician in Claremont, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree assault in connection with sexual encounters he had with the woman during the five months he was her doctor in 2016 and 2017.
As a general practice, the Valley News doesn’t identify the victims of sex crimes. Though Knight did not plead guilty to a sex crime, the initial charges in the case were sexual in nature.
Under a sentence imposed Tuesday by Superior Court Judge Charles Temple, Knight could be eligible for release in as little as 16 months, contingent on completion of various treatment programs while incarcerated.
Temple sentenced Knight to three to seven years in N.H. State Prison on one of the assault charges, with all but 24 months suspended. On the second charge, Temple sentenced Knight to three to seven years, all suspended as long as Knight stays out of trouble.
The judge said that whether Knight completes his treatment in prison will factor “very highly” on the decision of whether to release him early.
“The trauma and pain you caused her is horrific. … There’s no doubt a message needs to be sent to you,” Temple said during the sentencing.
But, he noted, the ultimate goal of sentencing is rehabilitation.
“There is a level of punishment here, but I tried to temper that with hope for your future,” the judge said.
Knight, dressed in a dark green blazer and khakis, remained stoic as the judge read off the sentence. But at the end of the hearing, he was red-faced and crying when he turned to hug his brother sitting behind him.
Tuesday’s case came to light in May 2017, when Knight voluntarily disclosed to the hospital that he had a sexual relationship with a patient, according to a filing by the N.H. Board of Medicine. Knight voluntarily stopped practicing medicine after the admission, and Valley Regional fired him a month later.
According to court documents, the sexual relationship occurred while Knight served as the woman’s primary physician between fall of 2016 and summer of 2017.
In a sentencing memorandum filed this week, Assistant Sullivan County Attorney Christine Hilliard wrote that during that time, Knight prescribed the woman pain medications that “far exceeded therapeutic doses” and that the woman “felt pressured to have sex” with Knight.
The woman reported being injured more than once during the encounters, court documents said.
Knight also inserted himself in the woman’s life, befriending and becoming the physician for her children, coming to her house with gifts and talking to her about his faith, Hilliard wrote.
Court documents also referenced sexually explicit messages between the two, as well as messages in which Knight talked about the woman being “the daughter of God” and sending church elders to bless her, the memorandum said.
Knight was originally charged with four counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, but the plea deal in March allowed him to plead guilty to the lesser charges in exchange for a lower sentence and the conditions that he will not have to register as a sex offender and will be able to reapply for his medical license.
During investigations, Knight admitted to having a relationship with the woman as well as two other patients during the time he served as a physician in New Hampshire. He has not been charged in connection with the other two patients.
Much of the hearing Tuesday centered on the woman’s statement to the court.
Standing before the judge, she knotted her fingers and gripped a notebook as she spoke about the first time she went to see Knight, a doctor she thought could help her manage a chronic illness.
When Knight told her he could cure her illness, the woman said, “It was like a miracle.”
But the trust she had in him quickly eroded as she said Knight coerced her into painful sexual encounters, telling her “the only way to God is torture,” the woman said Tuesday.
“It was not a relationship,” she said, turning to address Knight in court. “He’s supposed to be a man of God. He convinced me he talked to God. … I feel stupid now.”
During his statement, Knight spoke about his decision to report his own conduct. Standing before the judge on Tuesday, he said he tried to cease contact with the woman but claimed she continued to reach out to him.
“I chose to self-report and accept consequences,” he said.
Knight said in addition to being fired, he was expelled from his church, and his wife filed for divorce in the spring.
He called the dissolution of his marriage “the hardest consequence so far.”
“I’m actually really hurt by the misrepresentation of my faith,” Knight added, saying he only “encouraged” the woman to pursue faith.
Knight said he has been in treatment — though he did not disclose what type — since he reported his conduct and that he has “accomplished sexual sobriety,” with “one slip-up” this spring.
“I can’t express my regret,” Knight said. “I had tried to do everything I could to accept the harm.”
Earlier, after the woman’s statement, Knight’s attorney, Richard Guerriero, had reminded the court that Knight pleaded guilty to assault charges and that he took responsibility by reporting his own misconduct.
“We’re here because Eric self-reported this conduct. Before any investigation, any complaint. … That’s what we want when someone makes a mistake,” Guerriero said.
In a statement following the hearing, Guerriero added that the claims the woman made against Knight are “false.”
“If the prosecution believed that Eric was guilty of any other crimes, they would have investigated and brought charges,” he wrote in an email Tuesday evening. “The fact is that the prosecution dismissed the aggravated felonious sexual assault charges and never filed any charges claiming a forcible sexual assault.”
However, Temple took issue with the nature of Knight’s statement, saying that there are “two very different Erics.”
One, he said, is a good father and Ivy League-educated doctor.
The other, he said, “is a very dark side of Eric.”
“I’m not quite sure you understand the level of pain you have caused her,” Temple said, pointing specifically to Knight’s demeanor during his statement Tuesday. “The only time you looked her in the face was when you said you were hurt. Not at any time did you show remorse.”
At the same time, Temple took into account that Knight self-reported his misconduct.
The woman declined to be interviewed following Tuesday’s hearing, but in court, she spoke about the pain she believes she will live with for the foreseeable future. She and her children now are uncomfortable seeing a doctor, which has had a detrimental effect on her health.
“He tore my life apart. ... I’m stronger, but there are memories and scars on my body that will never go away,” she said. “I just pray every day that I could erase the memory of Eric Knight.”