REDWOOD CITY — As one victim after another testified, calling William Ayres a monster and a serial child-abuser who robbed them of their innocence, the once-renowned child psychiatrist sat stoically Monday as a judge sentenced him to eight years in prison for molesting his former patients.
Because of his age and health problems, it is likely a life sentence for the 81-year-old ex-doctor who pleaded no contest to eight felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child.
For decades, patients were referred to Ayres through the county juvenile justice system, schools and other doctors. Authorities know of at least 50 victims, but many of those cases were so old they fell outside the statute of limitations.
During a day of angry, sad and triumphant testimony in San Mateo County Superior Court, the men he molested during therapy sessions when they were his patients as boys from the 1960s to the 1990s, spoke out against him.
One of the first victims to speak grew up to become a psychotherapist helping teens.
“You are the monster they talk about,” said the man, identified as Thomas C. in court. “I was the perfect candidate for you to perform your perversions on. I told my parents, and they didn’t believe me.”
Ayres used his work with boys having trouble at school, at home or with the law as a setting to abuse them, the victims said. His position of authority allowed him to deflect suspicions about his sexual interest in boys and keep parents from believing their sons’ complaints, victims said.
Between 1987 and 2002, officials received at least three sexual abuse complaints about Ayres. Yet he was honored in 2002 by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors with an award recognizing his “tireless effort to improve the lives of children.”
“He’s a destroyer of boys,” said Irene, whose son was a victim. “I encourage you to give him the maximum sentence.”
Because the charges are considered a serious felony, Ayres must serve 85 percent of the sentence. He also has to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life once he’s paroled.
Clad in red jail clothes and seated in a wheelchair, Ayres mostly stared at the table in front of him, as more than a dozen victims and their family members testified. The sentencing comes just more than three months after Ayres pleaded no contest to the charges as his trial was beginning. The counts carried a maximum of 22 years in prison.
The onetime head of the prestigious American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has always professed his innocence. He claimed the only touching came in the form of physical exams that were part of the boys’ treatment. Ayres didn’t speak at Monday’s sentencing, but his wife and two children, in rare public statements, spoke against his “persecution.”
“There was nothing to suggest he could be guilty of the unspeakable crimes of which he is accused,” said wife Solveig Ayres. “Memories can be manipulated. I think they have.”
Her son and daughter went on to say the case was the result of a frenzy of emotion, misdirected anger and the personal “crusade” of victims’ advocate Victoria Balfour. A chance revelation of abuse by one of the victims led Balfour to call San Mateo police in 2002. She became part of the subsequent and winding investigation, which ended with felony molestation charges against Ayres in 2007.
“A mob of pitchfork and torch-wielding (accusers) has won,” said son Robert Ayres.
Defense attorney Jonathan McDougall said the family will pursue an appeal. He and the family said Ayres pleaded no contest only because his mind is so damaged by Alzheimer’s-related dementia that he wouldn’t have been able to defend himself at trial. McDougall said the decision had nothing to do with the family’s ability to pay legal bills.
Prosecutors’ first effort to convict Ayres ended in mistrial after jurors deadlocked in 2009. They decided to try him again, but the case slowed to a crawl and almost died due to Ayres’ alleged Alzheimer’s-related dementia. In the fall of 2011, both prosecution and defense agreed the disease had left him mentally incompetent for trial, and he was sent to a Napa State Hospital.
But on the eve of Ayres possibly being sent home, a forensic psychiatrist at Napa dropped a bombshell report, saying Ayres had been exaggerating, if not outright faking, his mental problems. In the fall of 2012, a San Mateo County Superior Court judge ruled Ayres had used his mental health experience and expertise to fool tests meant to catch fakers.
For Karl F., another victim of Ayres’ abuse, the molestation has cast a shadow over his life as he nears 50 years old. He’s afraid to be intimate with his wife, he’s plagued by feelings of filth and guilt, and he can’t even enjoy simple activities like building a model with his son.
Ayres gave models as rewards to his patients, and Karl once built one of Star Wars character R2-D2 with the former doctor.
“It crushes (my son) that I won’t sit down and build a stupid model with him,” Karl said.