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Scientist Denies Molesting Girl

Gene-therapy pioneer pleads not guilty to six counts of alleged crimes over a four-year period.

August 03, 2004|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

A prominent scientist mentioned suicide in an e-mail to the family of the girl who accused him of sexually molesting her, his attorney said Monday.

William French Anderson, 67, a nationally known pioneer in gene therapy research, pleaded not guilty Monday to six charges of child molestation at a hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Pasadena. If convicted of all counts, he could be sentenced to 56 years in prison.

Defense attorney Marcia A. Morrissey said outside court that her client and the girl's family had exchanged several e-mails, including the message that was "an indication that one's life would be destroyed and a reference to a potential suicide."

Anderson was released from Los Angeles County Jail on Monday after Superior Court Judge Terry Smerling reduced bail from $6 million to $600,000.

"It is a nightmare being falsely accused," Anderson said after leaving jail. "I did not do the things that I am charged with."

Morrissey said Anderson was on suicide watch while in jail.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the e-mail, other than to say that it contained a reference to a gun.

Morrissey also accused the girl's family of an attempted extortion. Prosecutors said there was no evidence of such an attempt.

Los Angeles County district attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said Anderson took his concerns to the San Marino Police Department after the criminal investigation into the alleged abuse was underway.

The girl's mother worked for Anderson, attorneys said.

"There has been a relationship between Dr. Anderson and his wife and this young woman and her family for a number of years," Morrissey said.

Anderson has been called the father of gene therapy for his work in removing white blood cells from a 4-year-old girl, using genetic engineering to insert a missing gene and reinfusing the cells back into her bloodstream. The patient, who suffered from a rare genetic disorder, is now healthy.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Anderson, the director of the gene therapy laboratories at the USC Keck School of Medicine, on Friday morning at his San Marino home.

In lowering bail, Smerling cited Anderson's lack of a criminal record and the fact that he was a "person of some significant distinction." The judge ordered Anderson to surrender his passport and firearms and issued a restraining order barring Anderson from contacting the alleged victim, now 17, and her family.

His wife, Kathryn D. Anderson, who recently retired as surgeon-in-chief at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, sat in the Pasadena courtroom during Monday's hearing. Reached at her home Monday afternoon, she declined to comment.

Prosecutors believe that Anderson sexually abused the girl, whom he had coached in karate. The alleged abuse, at Anderson's home, lasted from 1997 to 2001, prosecutors said.

The Sheriff's Department launched an investigation after the girl told a counselor about the alleged abuse. The counselor gave the information to the county Department of Children and Family Services, which referred the case to the Sheriff's Department. Deputies executed search warrants at his home and USC laboratory, where they seized computers.

Anderson is on administrative leave from USC. He is a professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and pediatrics.

Prosecutors filed one count of continuous sex abuse of a child under the age of 14 and five counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14. Deputy Dist. Atty. Cathryn Brougham said prosecutors may add more charges. Anderson is due back in court Aug. 16 for scheduling of a preliminary hearing.

Anderson has experienced "humiliation and shock" since the charges were filed Friday, Morrissey told the judge.

"He has led a life that has been beyond reproach for 67 years," she said outside court. "Dr. Anderson is looking forward to showing that these charges are not true."

Anderson came to USC in 1992 after 27 years at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. He is a fifth-degree black belt in the martial art of tae kwon do.

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Times wire services contributed to this report.

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