William Hamilton Ayres, the former child psychiatrist sent to a mental hospital before he could stand trial again for allegedly molesting several male patients, posted $900,000 bail and is free from custody.
Ayres’ bond posting came a day after a judge ruled him mentally competent to aid in his own defense based on a three-day hearing in which some Napa State Hospital staff concluded the 80-year-old had used his medical expertise to exaggerate or outright fake Alzehimer’s-related dementia.
Ayres will stand trial March 11 on nine felony counts of child molestation stemming from abuse of six patients ages 9 to 13 under the guise of medical exams between 1988 and 1996. Prosecutors believe the victim count is actually more than 30 but the statute of limitations whittled the charges down.
Judge Jack Grandsaert set the $900,000 amount Wednesday based on concerns Ayres was a risk for either flight or suicide to avoid a second trial and possibly prison.
Defense attorney Jonathan McDougall had expressed an interest in seeking a reconsideration but said the family chose to post bail instead because the logisitics of a hearing were impeded by McDougall’s involvement in a homicide trial. While the family was able to do so, McDougall said the cost of both the trial and bail are a hardship.
"It’s an incredible amount of money and continues to be a financial drain,” he said.
Prosecutors say their goal now is to ensure that Ayres’ freedom doesn’t delay his March trial.
"We think one of the reason he wanted to go to a competency trial so quickly was because he was in custody without bail. Now that he was lucky enough to take advantage [of bail] we are determined to get this case to trial and get it to trial in March of 2012. It’s just been way too long,” said Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti.
As of now, McDougall said Ayres’ release should not affect the trial date although he and the family are going to discuss their options for continuing to challenge the competency ruling. Dementia is a progressive disease and Ayres may have different mental circumstances in a couple months, McDougall said.
The issue of Ayres’ bail has raised debate several times since his original 2007 arrest. Police apprehended him on a $1.5 million warrant but, less than a day later, a different judge slashed the amount to $250,000 without explanation. Ayres and his wife posted the cash amount a short time later. As prosecutors added new charges to the case, they sought a bail increase to $1.8 million or $100,000 per alleged victim. The judge who signed the original warrant settled on $750,000 and ordered Ayres not to renew his expired passport.
Ayres briefly went back into custody before posting bond again. He remained free throughout the first criminal trial, which ended with a hung jury, and a subsequent trial on his competency which also ended when jurors could not unanimously agree. The prosecution ultimately stipulated to Ayres’ incompetence and after several months he was admitted to Napa State Hospital.
Earlier this year, the hospital sent Ayres back to San Mateo County on the strength of a report concluding he was competent and was malingering, the medical term for faking or exaggerating a condition.
In August, Ayres’ defense pushed for his release on $50,000 bail, arguing the situation was no different than when he was previously free awaiting trial. Grandsaert declined, saying the law did not allow him to set a reasonable bail until Ayres was certified as competent.
He remained jailed through the recent hearing to determine if his competency was restored. Unlike the previous trial, Grandsaert alone rather than a jury rendered the verdict.
Prior to his arrest, Ayres was well 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 even as San Mateo police continued its investigation. Police began looking at him 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.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.