Psychiatrist accused of molestation competent for trial

June 16, 2011 2:14:58 PM PDT
A prominent San Mateo psychiatrist accused of sexually molesting seven male patients in the early 1990s might be suffering from dementia and memory loss, but he remains competent enough to face the charges against him, a deputy district attorney said today.

Closing arguments were made this morning in San Mateo County Superior Court in the competency trial of 79-year-old William Ayres, who has been charged with nine counts of performing lewd acts with seven boys during counseling sessions that took place between 1991 and 1996.

Ayres used a walker to enter the courtroom and sat quietly with his head down through most of the proceedings.

Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan said she agreed with what every court-appointed doctor and expert witness said during the seven-day trial; that Ayres suffers from dementia, forgetfulness and perhaps even an early stage of Alzheimer's disease.

However, the symptoms of Ayres' condition do not prevent him from understanding the nature of the charges against him, aiding his defense attorneys or understanding his place in trial proceedings.

"The fact that you just don't remember things doesn't make you incompetent to stand trial," McKowan said.

The court has built-in protections that ensure special consideration is given to witnesses or defendants with obvious impairments, McKowan said. Ayres would be able to testify at his own speed, request breaks and keep a personal record of statements and decisions he makes throughout the course of the trial.

In formulating his defense, Ayres' attorney Jonathan McDougall would be able to refer to lengthy transcripts and records from Ayres' first criminal trial, which lasted for two months in the summer of 2009, McKowan said.

Ayres testified at the time that he conducted exams in which boys were naked from the waist down, but said that nothing inappropriate happened. The trial ended in a hung jury when jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the nine counts.

The district attorney's office decided in August 2009 to retry the case, but criminal proceedings were suspended when McDougall questioned his client's competency in light of an "insidious onset of dementia."

McDougall said today that his client's memory loss and continuing cognitive decline would have a "huge impact" on the potential outcome of a complicated criminal trial.

Ayres' wife of 49 years, Solvig Ayres, testified earlier in the competency trial that her husband has had trouble remembering their son's name, their simple door code and the meaning of the word 'biscuit.'

McDougall argued that not being able to recall circumstances surrounding events that occurred 15 years ago, or the testimony of witnesses throughout a lengthy trial, would severely compromise Ayres' ability to assist in his own defense.

If found incompetent, Ayres will face internment at a mental care facility.

The jury began deliberating late this morning.

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