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Prominent geneticist guilty of molestation

A jury convicted world-renowned geneticist William French Anderson on Wednesday of molesting the daughter of a colleague.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A renowned geneticist was convicted Wednesday of molesting a colleague's daughter, starting at age 10 when the girl took martial arts classes at his home.

William French Anderson, 69, is widely credited as the "father of gene therapy," a promising but controversial experimental medical treatment that involves injecting healthy genes into sick patients. His successful treatment of a patient this way in 1990 launched the field.

Anderson was convicted of one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child under age 14 and three counts of committing a lewd act on a child.

He showed no reaction as the verdicts were read. He sat stoically, staring straight ahead, his head held high.

His wife, a renowned surgeon, sat in the front row of the spectator section behind him with her eyes downcast and fists clenched in her lap.

Judge refuses to free Anderson
Despite pleas by Anderson's lawyer that he should stay free to continue his scientific work, Superior Court Judge Michael E. Pastor ordered him jailed.

"While Dr. Anderson is statutorily eligible for probation, he is clearly facing possible decades in prison," the judge said. Prosecutors said the scientist faces a maximum 22 years in prison.

In ordering Anderson's incarceration, the judge also cited an e-mail Anderson wrote to his victim suggesting he might commit suicide and saying he had bought a gun and ammunition.

Anderson's lawyer, Barry Tarlow, told the judge his client was not a danger to himself or anyone else and would not flee.

He also vowed to appeal the verdicts "to the highest court in the land. We will not rest until justice is done."

Anderson had been free on bond during the trial.

The judge ordered a psychiatric study of Anderson before his Nov. 17 sentencing.

Co-prosecutor James Garrison said the judge can consider a wide variety of factors, including Anderson's work, in sentencing the scientist.

"We all acknowledge the contributions he has made in the past. But what's important now is the damage he did to the victim," Garrison said.

Victim ‘very pleased’
Co-prosecutor Cathryn Brougham said she had conveyed the verdict to the victim, who is now 19, and "she is very pleased."

Jurors sent word to the judge that they did not want to speak to the media after the verdicts were read.

Prosecutors accused Anderson of molesting the girl from 1997 to 2001. They said the abuse began during Saturday morning taekwondo lessons at his home in San Marino, a wealthy suburb east of Los Angeles.

"There was the secret dirty side to that relationship," Brougham told jurors in her opening statement at the three-week trial.

Anderson has been placed on leave from his position as director of the Gene Therapies Laboratories at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine.

Anderson has published hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and won numerous awards for his work. He was Time magazine's runner-up for Man of the Year in 1995 and launched the scientific journal Human Gene Therapy.

Tarlow had argued that his client was a kindly mentor to the girl and was being smeared by her mother, whom he said wanted to assume Anderson's position at USC.

Tarlow said that while Anderson was brilliant in the lab, he lacked social skills, as evidenced by e-mails introduced at trial in which he wrote about pondering suicide if the girl's allegations became public.

"Nothing about having a 176 IQ means you have good judgment," Tarlow said during the trial.

Neither side disputed that Anderson and his accuser had a close relationship. Anderson bought the girl and her twin sister bicycles for Christmas. He helped them get into a summer program at Stanford University, bought the accuser's prom dress and allowed her and her sister to host a sleepover party for their friends at his house.