The former child psychiatrist committed to a state mental hospital rather than tried for allegedly molesting patients after a jury couldn't agree if he was competent perpetuated "a big, elaborate hoax” by using his specific medical knowledge to fool doctors into thinking he had serious dementia, according to a prosecutor.
Prosecutor Melissa McKowan's sharp words came after the defense attorney for William Hamilton Ayres, 80, contested the recent conclusion by Napa State Hospital doctors that his client is mentally fit for trial and asked that he be released on bail until a hearing on that matter.
McKowan's comments also gave insight into the surprising medical report on Ayres' competency that may pave the way for his criminal retrial and was sealed by the court after its receipt last week. Judge Jack Grandsaert further hinted at the report's conclusions by telling attorneys there is less preparation time needed for a competency hearing because the only new issue at play is "malingering” — the medical term for fabricating or exaggerating symptoms for a secondary motive.
In other words, Ayres — who even prosecutors conceded during a competency jury trial may suffer from some amount of Alzehimer's-related dementia — is not impaired beyond an ability to help in his own defense and doctors believe he was in fact faking his condition to avoid a criminal retrial on nine counts of child molestation. The report is based on observations by non-forensic doctors like nurses and custodians at the hospital who "describe incidents that clearly give rise to the belief that this man has perpetuated a hoax on us,” McKowan said.
The report also includes statements attributed to defense attorney Jonathan McDougall who told Judge Jack Grandsaert he anticipates taking the stand himself to address the comments that are "categorically incorrect.” The nature of those statements were not disclosed but McKowan speculated they were behavioral observations of Ayres during preparation of the earlier trial.
McDougall used his own expected testimony and the addition of extra lawyers to handle that aspect as one reason why he could not adequately prepare for a September competency hearing. Trial scheduling conflicts were another. Ultimately, Grandsaert, who presided over the original competency jury trial, set the hearing for Oct. 2 with the understanding it could be moved if necessary. Grandsaert anticipates the hearing to last approximately seven court days.
In the meantime, Ayres remains in custody at the men's jail although Grandsaert will hear from attorneys next Wednesday on whether the law allows release on bail before a defendant is found competent and criminal proceedings are reinstated. McDougall argued Ayres is neither a flight risk nor a danger to society, adding that even if all the allegation are true they were committed in the scope of his medical practice that no longer exists. Barring bail, McDougall asked that Ayres be sent back to Napa State Hospital where he's been since October but McKowan argued there is no benefit because he is malingering and not accepting medication or therapy anyway.
"There's nothing at Napa that he was doing that he can't do here,” she said.
During the hearing, a visibly thin and balding Ayres sat in a wheelchair at the defense table with his head slightly bowed.
Last week's hospital report was an unexpected twist in Ayres' case which has wound through the San Mateo County police and court system for the last decade.
San Mateo police first began looking at Ayres in 2002 after a former patient accused him of molestation during the 1970s when he was 13. After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the statute of limitations nixed criminal prosecution, the victim and Ayres reached a confidential settlement in July 2005. In a deposition for the lawsuit, Ayres reportedly admitted conducting physical exams of patients as part of his care.
Ayres' practice included private clients and referrals from both the juvenile justice system and school districts. He also became known as president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and for hosting the sex education series "Time of Your Life.” Ayres received juvenile court referrals up through 2004.
He was arrested in 2007 and tried in 2009 for allegedly abusing six former male patients under the guise of medical exams between 1988 and 1996 when they were 9 to 13 years old. The jury hung in varying amounts on every count and his mental fitness was called into question before he could stand trial again. McDougall told jurors Ayres couldn't remember his children's middle names or the word for simple items like biscuit.
The jury deadlocked and the prosecution agreed to allow Ayres' hospitalization rather than launch another trial. After a mandatory 90-day evaluation period, McDougall sought Ayres' release from Napa State Hospital to a facility closer to his wife and home on the Peninsula. After a series of delays on the request, the report submitted last week made that question moot and gave his alleged victims and their family hope of finally seeing another shot at trial.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.