The prominent 75-year-old San Mateo child psychiatrist accused of fondling dozens of former patients will stand trial in March on 20 felony counts stemming from seven alleged victims who claim they were inappropriately touched under the guise of medical examinations.
William Hamilton Ayres pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday and was ordered back to court Jan. 15 for a pre-trial conference followed by a March 10 jury trial.
Ayres has maintained his innocence since being arrested earlier this year and defense attorney Doron Weinberg suggested the former patients are mistaken or influenced by police questioning and media attention. After a preliminary hearing in August, however, Judge Jonathan Karesh deemed the evidence "quite strong” and held him to answer on the charges of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14.
During the day-long hearing, officers went one by one through some of his former patients, detailing their ages, the time they saw Ayres and various recollections about their appointments and why they didn’t tell anyone about being asked to stand naked or being touched inappropriately.
"They won’t believe you because I’m a doctor. They won’t believe a troubled teenager,” Officer Rick Decker testified the now-grown man recalled Ayres saying after he balked at the doctor slipping hand down his pants.
Accusations against Ayres have swirled since a former patient accused him of child abuse in 2003. Ayres settled the case in 2005 for an undisclosed sum and he was never charged criminally until a March 2006 search of his home and storage locker turned up 800 patient names.
After investigators spent months phoning those individuals, police arrested Ayres April 5 on suspicion of fondling three former patients — ages 9, 11 and 12 between 1991 and 1996. No females or males who were over 15 at the time they saw Ayres reported having physical examinations, testified police Detective Peter Bahnmueller.
Although the total now stands at seven victims, prosecutors believe there are at least 30 including those whose case can’t be included. The statute of limitations mandates he can only be charged for crimes involving individuals less than 29 years old or occurring after Jan. 1, 1988.
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. 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 is free from custody on $750,000 cash bail.
Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.