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Star geneticist sentenced for molesting girl

World-renowned geneticist William French Anderson was sentenced Friday to 14 years in prison for molesting his assistant's young daughter for years, beginning when she took martial arts classes at his home.
William French Anderson
William French Anderson, 70, listens as his victim reads a statement to the court Friday in Los Angeles.Ringo H.w. Chiu / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

World-renowned geneticist William French Anderson was sentenced Friday to 14 years in prison for molesting his assistant's young daughter for years, beginning when she took martial arts classes at his home.

Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said Anderson, 70, had caused "incalculable" emotional damage to a victim he described as an insecure and trusting immigrant lured by the promise of learning self-defense.

"Because of intellectual arrogance, he persisted and he got away with as much as he could," the judge said.

Anderson was Time magazine's runner-up for Man of the Year in 1995 for his work in genetics.

Prosecutors had contended that he began molesting the girl in 1997 when she was 10 and continued for four years. However, jurors convicted him of crimes beginning in 1999.

Victim reads in court
His victim, now 19, read a statement before sentencing.

"Roughly three years ago, I wanted to kill myself ....I couldn't live with all the pain inside of me, and yet, I couldn't bear to tell the world the ghastly truth I knew," she said.

"He maliciously destroyed my world to fulfill his own sick pleasures," she added.

The judge said Anderson showed no signs of remorse and had sent e-mails to the victim warning that exposing him might cause pain to her family and cause his suicide.

"He was the super-father figure. She was particularly vulnerable," Pastor said.

The girl finally shared her experiences with a counselor who, by law, had to contact authorities. Anderson was charged after his victim wore a wire during the investigation and confronted him about the sexual abuse that occurred after he began teaching her tae kwon do.

In the tape-recorded conversation played for jurors during the trial, Anderson told the girl, "I just did it, just something in me was just evil."

'Game plan' alleged
The judge said Anderson had not acted out of impulse but rather used his intellect and experience to entrap the girl by "playing doctor" and telling her that he loved her.

"The defendant had a game plan," Pastor said.

Anderson could be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his sentence.

At the sentencing hearing, he wore a gray sport jacket and white shirt and had shoulder-length white hair. He listened intently throughout the proceedings but did not speak, except at the end of sentencing when he twice replied "yes" to questions about whether he understood his rights.

He also shook his head once at his wife. Otherwise, he showed no emotion.

His lawyers said they would appeal.

Anderson has been called the "father of gene therapy" for his work on a promising but controversial experimental medical treatment that involves injecting healthy genes into sick patients.

He claimed to be the first person to successfully treat a patient with the therapy in 1990, launching the field, although the claim has been disputed.

The victim's mother said she had trusted the man who gave her a job and promised to train her daughter in martial arts at his San Marino home.

Girl cut, burned self
Instead of teaching her how to defend herself, the woman said, Anderson had turned her daughter into someone who cut and burned herself, considered suicide and needed pills to fight depression.

The girl's twin sister also suffered because of her sister's pain.

"Life is made of memories," the mother said as her daughter sobbed. "Does anyone want a memory of suffering and pain?"

Anderson was convicted last July of one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child under age 14 and three counts of committing a lewd act upon a child. He had faced a maximum sentence of 18 years in prison.

In addition to prison time, the judge ordered him to pay the girl and her family about $52,000 in restitution for past therapy and to cover the cost of any future treatment. He also imposed fines and fees to the state of about $16,000.

Blair Berk, his lawyer, argued for probation, saying Anderson already had suffered the loss of his reputation, millions of dollars in grants and two professorships.

In prison, he would be targeted for beatings or death because he is a high-profile sex offender and, at best, would have to spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement, Berk said.

His other lawyer, Barry Tarlow, said Anderson's crime should be balanced against all the good he had done in his life. Both attorneys said Anderson could help society with an alternate sentence requiring research into diseases such as diabetes.

"This is a good and decent man who, as the jury has determined, has done a horrible thing," Tarlow said.

"There has to be a better answer than just burying him" in prison, he said.

The judge gave Anderson credit for 237 days for time served and good behavior.

He noted that Anderson had no criminal record and said court had received an "extraordinary" number of letters, including one from a Nobel Prize winner, describing Anderson's good character as a colleague, friend and mentor.

Defense attorneys argued during his three-week trial that Anderson was a friendly mentor to the girl and was being smeared by her mother, who wanted to assume his position as director of the Gene Therapies Laboratories at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine.

Anderson resigned last September and is no longer on its faculty, the university said.