After two years of events worthy of a prime time legal drama, embattled child psychiatrist Dr. William Ayres will finally stand trial Monday. He is accused of molesting seven of his young male patients.
Ayres, 77, was a prominent member of the San Mateo medical community and served as president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
He also performed physical examinations and inspected the genitalia of many of his juvenile psychiatric patients.
The once well-respected doctor was arrested in April 2007 and charged with 14 counts of lewd and lascivious acts with three victims, ages 9, 11 and 12 at the time of the alleged abuse.
The case’s publicity brought forward four more accusers, bringing the number of Ayres’ felony molestation counts to 20. He was freed on $750,000 bail.
The shocking story made international headlines, and the trial beginning Monday is expected to draw more public attention.
“We are exceedingly pleased that we are now on the doorstep of getting justice,” San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Friday.
A trial judge will be selected by Judge James Ellis in San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City on Monday morning.
Wagstaffe predicted jury selection and pretrial motions would take two weeks, but that the entire trial would last eight to 10 weeks.
Ayres practiced for decades in San Mateo County, seeing patients referred to him
through local school districts and the county’s juvenile court, in addition to his private practice.
His defense attorney, Doron Weinberg, has argued that physical examinations by psychiatrists are routine.
He previously told MediaNews that Ayres acted responsibly and that physical examinations were part of his “therapeutic model.”
The lead prosecutor, San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan, said at Ayres’ initial arraignment there were assertions spanning 30 years.
Police first began investigating him in 2002 after being told by a man who was a patient of Ayres in the 1970s that the doctor had molested him on multiple occasions. But the case had to be dropped after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively changed the statute of limitations on such cases.
Childhood molestation can only be brought by victims who are younger than 29 or whose alleged abuse occurred after Jan. 1, 1998.
The San Mateo Police Department reopened the case in March 2006, at the urging of a friend of one of the victims to seek out other possible victims who fell within the legal statute of limitation.
That friend was New York-based freelance writer Victoria Balfour, who made it a personal crusade to unearth possible molestation victims of Ayres and help authorities build a case against him.
A search warrant was executed for Ayres’ records, and a list was compiled of more than 800 patients.
Prosecutors believe they know of at least 39 former patients of Ayres who had been molested by him, but most did not fall under the state’s statute of limitations.
After seven months of exhaustive and painful interviews with patients on the list, police took Ayres into custody at his San Mateo home on April 5, 2007.
Ayres’ medical license was suspended, and has since expired.
On April 28, 2007, the child psychiatrist accused of molesting dozens of pre-adolescent boys in San Mateo County for decades declared his innocence of the multiple counts against him.
Now, more than two years later, the once-prominent child psychiatrist’s fate will likely be left to a jury.
Weinberg was unavailable for comment about his defense arguments on Friday because he was in Los Angeles with another client, music producer Phil Spector, who received 19 years to life for killing actress Lana Clarkson.
In fact, the Spector murder contributed to the delay of Ayres’ trial.
The first major setback came in February 2008 when Ayres was diagnosed with prostate cancer and a judge postponed the start of his trial from March 10 to June 23 of that year, in order for him to seek immediate treatment.
A month later, a state appeals court ruled that Ayres deserved a new hearing on a defense motion that could have destroyed the prosecution’s case against him.
Weinberg planned to try to suppress evidence gathered from Ayres’ patient files on the basis that the warrant violated the state’s psychotherapist-patient privilege, lacked probable cause and permitted constitutionally prohibited searches.
The motion was ultimately dismissed but a further delay came when San Mateo County Superior Court Judge John Runde unexpectedly recused himself from the case.
Both prosecuting and defense attorneys were baffled by the event, and a new trial was set for January 2009. That date, however, conflicted with the scheduling of the Spector murder trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Ayres was known nationally as one of the country’s top child psychiatrists; he was just as well respected on the Peninsula where he ran a private practice for decades.
He was probably one of fewer than 10 San Mateo County psychiatrists with a subspecialty in child and adolescent psychiatry, according to San Mateo County Medical Association Executive Director Sue Malone.
He told colleagues he performed medical examinations because that was the way he had been trained. He had done his residency in the early 1960s at the Judge Baker Center in Boston, one of the country’s premier centers for the study of child psychology.
While most child psychiatrists admit that administering physical exams to patients is uncommon today, many professionals defend the practice as another instrument in a psychiatrist’s toolbox.
A spokeswoman from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, of which Ayres was president for more than a decade, told MediaNews that performing physicals on patients in a psychiatric setting can be “consistent with good medical practice.”
Wagstaffe said he expected attorneys on both sides to present expert opinions on the matter.
While the passing of time between charges and trial can often damage prosecutors’ cases, Wagstaffe said all their witnesses were ready to go.
“This case is more than ripe for trial,” he said.