11/19/2013 07:37 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

Dr. George Doodnaught guilty of 21 sex assaults of patients

A Toronto court has found Dr. George Doodnaught, an anesthesiologist, guilty of sexually assaulting 21 women while they were under conscious sedation in a hospital.

The verdict was handed down in a packed courtroom shortly after 10 a.m. ET Tuesday, bringing tears to the eyes of many of the victims present for the decision. Some people could be heard sighing with relief or whispering "yes."

Doodnaught was accused of kissing, fondling and performing other sexual acts on patients at North York General Hospital during a four-year period that ended in 2010, leading to a trial that ran, with many adjournments, through most of this year. 

Judge David McCombs of Ontario Superior Court found Doodnaught's guilt on all counts "overwhelming."

Doodnaught’s lawyer argued the female patients were actually having vivid dreams while under sedation, and that it would have been physically impossible for him to molest them from his position behind a surgical screen in the operating room, but the judge rejected those arguments.

Crown said doctor timed assaults

McCombs noted Doodnaught had worked at the hospital for 26 years. He knew when it was safe "to commit the relatively brief assaults without being seen," the judge wrote.

"His patients … were sedated, passive and disinhibited," the judge found.

"He had control over their level of anesthesia and would have known that they could not openly resist. He relied on the amnesiac effects of the drugs to shield him from complaints."

He was also known as being "touchy feely," McCombs noted.

"His approach, particularly with female patients, was to soothe them by speaking softly to them and often by stroking their cheek or their hair," McCombs wrote.

"Because he was known for his caring approach, [operating room] staff did not consider it unusual for him to be in very close physical proximity to sedated patients under his care."

During the trial, the Crown characterized Doodnaught as a sexual opportunist who timed his assaults with precision to avoid getting caught, claiming he was motivated by the excitement and risk.