William Hamilton Ayres, the once-renowned child psychiatrist who abruptly pleaded no contest to molesting five young male patients under the guise of medical exams, was sentenced Monday to eight years in prison and lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Ayres, 81, showed no reaction as Judge Beth Labson Freeman explained her sentence — eight years for one count with the other seven counts running concurrent based in part on his advanced age, medical issues and lack of criminal record — but grew agitated with bailiffs attempting to push his wheelchair from the courtroom after the hearing’s completion.
Freeman handed down the term after first denying the latest defense move to have Ayres, 81, declared mentally incompetent and hearing hours of emotional testimony from now-grown victims and their families about the direct impact of his abuse on their lives and the ripple effect through decades when they suppressed memories or found accusations falling on deaf ears.
Thomas C., identified only with his last initial like all speakers yesterday, looked directly at Ayres and told the wheelchair-bound man with the bowed head that he was a “a wolf spider” who further divided his strained family and sent him into years of addiction and poverty.
“You don’t even know how many children you caught in your web, serial pedophile,” Thomas C. said.
Thomas C., who has since become a licensed psychotherapist helping teenagers, refused to say Ayres’ name and so did several other speakers who only called him “the defendant” or “the child molester.”
Some speakers directly asked Freeman to impose the maximum sentence allowed — 22 years although Freeman indicated plans from early on to impose eight years — while others used their time to praise victims’ advocate Victoria Balfour who helped spur the San Mateo police investigation and explain why they believe Ayres’ conduct is contemptible.
“He is the destroyer of countless boys,” said Irene, mother of one victim who also addressed the court. “He is worse than your everyday sexual abuser of children because he knew better.”
Ayres’ two grown children and wife disagreed, painting him as a persecuted man caught in a witch hunt. Wife Solveig Ayres theorized prosecutors were upset Ayres sometimes recommended treatment instead of incarceration and son, Robert, suggested the accusers were resentful of having to see a therapist. Solveig Ayres also said Balfour, a molestation victim herself, was on a mission to punish anyone she felt was a molester.
Barbara Ayres, his daughter, questioned the authenticity of long-term memory and said “There’s no way he did what people are claiming.”
Ayres was originally charged with molesting six patients between 1988 and 1996 when they were ages 9 to 13 because several others who came forward fell outside the statute of limitations. However, authorities and acknowledged victims say there are dozens more culled primarily from San Mateo County juvenile court and school referrals. These boys, labeled troubled, were the perfect victims, according to yesterday’s speakers, for a well-regarded doctor who served as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and as host of the sex education series “Time of Your Life.”
“No one would doubt the great Ayres,” Thomas C. said.
But San Mateo police began investigating him in 2002. In 2005, two years before his arrest, he settled the first of several lawsuits with former patients. The deposition in one recent case came into play yesterday when defense attorney Jonathan McDougall used a 50-page transcript of Ayres’ questioning as evidence his client should again be declared mentally incompetent. Ayres was previously committed to Napa State Hospital with Alzheimer’s-related dementia after his first criminal trial ended with a hung jury. However, doctors concluded Ayres was exaggerating or faking his symptoms to avoid prosecution and San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Jack Grandsaert later ruled him again competent.
Freeman yesterday said McDougall had not presented persuasive evidence that Grandsaert’s ruling was wrong or that Ayres’ mental state had significantly changed. Using the transcript, Freeman said she identified a man who provided proper responses, followed a confusing hypothetical and offered no more “ums” and speech stutters than the involved attorneys. The session was halted not because of Ayres’ ability as McDougall claimed but because the tape ran out, Freeman told the packed courtroom.
“I actually find nothing unusual that would cast doubt on the competency of Dr. Ayres,” Freeman said.
Freeman also referred to her own observations of Ayres while presiding over his first trial and in multiple court proceedings leading up to the second attempt prior to his no contest plea. Those two trials, a competency trial that ended with a hung jury and numerous stops and starts also weighed on the victims the past six and a half years, they said. A few speakers called the courts and county apathetic, pointing to Ayres’ high regard and place in social and political circles as possible reasons he continued to operate.
Meanwhile, several of the victims shares similar ongoing feelings of fear and guilt. Trust was destroyed, authority remains questioned and families fragmented. Karl, now near 50, can’t even construct Star Wars models with his own young son despite the boy’s desire because Ayres used an R2D2 model as a “reward.” His life is “flat,” he said and upon waking he wishes he’d quietly died in his sleep.
“When I look to the future it is gray,” he said.
But Michael, whose husband Greg was an Ayres patient, told Freeman her sentence choice could give all victims something else. Her choice of justice will show them, he said, that “it’s also possible to live their lives as a survivor.”
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