REDWOOD CITY -- With just two words a once-renowned Bay Area child psychiatrist charged with molesting his patients ended an almost eight-year case Thursday that at one point appeared prosecutors had lost.
When asked how he pleaded to the eight felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, an emotionless Williams Ayres, 81, said: "No contest". His surprise plea in San Mateo County Superior Court came on the eve of retrial and has the same legal effect as a guilty verdict.
Ayres faces eight years in prison, though Judge Beth Labson Freeman can impose up to 22 years. That sentence would have been impossible a year ago, when Ayres was sitting in a state mental hospital, unable to be prosecuted because of purported Alzheimer's related-dementia.
But the tide of the case was stunningly reversed in October when a judge ruled Ayres faked his condition in order to avoid another trial. It set Ayres on a path to Thursday's conviction.
In a wheelchair pushed by his daughter, a thin Ayres with a wiry white beard left court without explaining his change of course. For nearly a decade the doctor, who once got a lifetime achievement award from the San Mateo County Supervisors, claimed innocence. He said he only touched boys for physical and genital exams as part of their treatment in his San Mateo office.
Defense attorney Jonathan McDougall declined to comment, saying he wouldn't answer any reporters' questions until after the Aug. 6 sentencing. Ayres will remain out of jail on $900,000 bail until then.
The prosecution, however, provided some clues to Thursday's surprise conviction. They said Ayres' last-minute plea to the California First District Court of Appeal to halt the trial was declined Thursday morning.
Jury selection had begun this week for the follow up trial to the 2009 prosecution that ended with jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of guilt on some charges. Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan added: "Our case was airtight."
It would have featured five grown men, who were between the ages of 9-13 in late-1980s and early 1990s when Ayres allegedly molested them. McKowan said they were all relieved to not have to again tell a roomful of strangers about a part of their lives that had caused them shame and pain.
"I am very happy the victims didn't have to go through another trial. I am thrilled that this seven-year ordeal is finally coming to an end," said McKowan, beaming outside court. "And I am extremely happy that justice is finally going to be done for all these victims."
The District Attorney's Office knows of 50 alleged victims of Ayres, some going back to the 1960s, McKowan said. Ayres received referrals from San Mateo County's juvenile justice division as well as from schools and other doctors over four decades. After several false starts, police closed in on him in 2005 and prosecutors charged him in 2007.
Rinaldo Brutoco's son, whose name he asked be kept confidential, was among the boys sent to Ayres. But the "beaming" 9-year-old with learning problems had his "light" put out after seeing the psychiatrist. The boy's parents didn't know what was wrong until years later. He later testified at the first trial.
The news of Ayres' conviction came the same day as Brutuco's son, now 27 and engaged to be married, graduated with honors from Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu. After the abuse, there were many dark days when Thursday's celebration wasn't a certain outcome.
"I'm very grateful this part of the nightmare is over," the father, a 66-year-old Santa Barbara resident said from Hawaii. "This is the best graduation present he could have gotten. He's got his life back."
After the hung jury in 2009, prosecutors decided to retry the case, but shortly thereafter the struggle began over whether Ayres was mentally competent to stand trial. After years of court delays, doctors agreed his dementia was so severe he could not defend himself, and he was shipped to Napa State Hospital in 2011. As dementia gets only worse with time, prosecutors held out little hope he would ever return to Redwood City for trial.
But a forensic doctor at the hospital began to investigate Ayres' behavior He noticed the former head of the prestigious American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry was able to remember people and information that his condition should have made impossible.
In fall 2011 San Mateo County Superior Judge John Grandsaert ruled Ayres had faked or at least exaggerated his symptoms to dodge a second trial. He used his mental health training to fool the doctors interviewing him and the tests designed to catch fakers, the judge said.
The lengthy delays in the case has not been forgotten by those involved. Victim's advocate Victoria Balfour made her first call to San Mateo police in 2002 about Ayres.
"I thought that Ayres would be arrested imminently, and the case wrapped up within the year. Little did I know," she wrote in an email. "Along the way, some of the victims I know have committed suicide. I hope that this guilty plea brings relief to the victims who are still with us.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.