Advertisement

Defendants in Retroactive Molestation Case Lose Dismissal Bid : Crime: Under a new state law, William Lynch, 64, and his ex-girlfriend are accused of act that allegedly occurred more than 20 years ago.

Share via
TIMES STAFF WRITER

A judge refused Friday to dismiss charges against a Santa Clarita man and his ex-girlfriend who are being prosecuted under a new state law that allows sexual-abuse charges to be brought many years after the alleged incidents.

William Lynch, 64, entered a plea of not guilty at an arraignment hearing in Los Angeles Municipal Court on Friday to charges that he sexually molested four girls more than 20 years ago--charges brought many years after expiration of the statute of limitations that until this year would have prevented such a prosecution.

Lynch’s ex-girlfriend, Mildred Fleetwood, 60, pleaded not guilty during the same hearing to charges that she aided and abetted the childhood molestation of one of the women, who told authorities that she remembered the alleged attacks during a therapy session in 1992.

Advertisement

The new state law allows prosecutors to file charges in sex cases in which oral copulation, intercourse or penetration are involved within a year of the date a crime is reported to police, regardless of when it was allegedly committed. The law limits such complaints to those who were under 18 at the time of the alleged assaults and requires that there be evidence to corroborate the allegations before charges are filed.

Attorneys for Lynch and Fleetwood had asked Municipal Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt to dismiss charges against their clients, arguing that the law should not be applied retroactively to them since it was passed after the statute of limitations in their case had expired.

“Once the statute of limitations expires, the prosecution and the Legislature are out of luck,” said Verah Bradford, a public defender representing Fleetwood.

By allowing the charges to stand, Bradford argued, “the court would almost be saying there’s no good reason for the statute of limitations.”

Deputy Dist. Atty. Francesca Frey contended that in passing the law, which took effect Jan. 1, the Legislature found that “child molestation is a serious enough crime that there should be an exception to the statute of limitations, as there is with murder.”

“It was a crime when it happened,” Frey said. “It is a crime that will not go away.”

Wiatt sided with Frey, finding that if Lynch and Fleetwood committed the acts they are accused of, “then they must have known they were crimes.”

Advertisement

“The passage of time does not change that,” Wiatt said.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled for June 21.

Wiatt also subsequently denied Bradford’s request to release Fleetwood--who was described as a retired woman married to a blind, disabled man--from custody without posting $50,000 bail. Lynch is currently out on bail.

In an interview after the hearing, Bradford described the case as “patently unfair.” The attorney described the alleged victim as a woman with a long history of mental problems.

During a 1992 therapy session, the woman recalled details of Lynch molesting her and her childhood friends, with Fleetwood’s acquiescence, Frey said. The three other alleged victims are sisters, two of whom say they fully remember the molestations but did not report them, she said.

*

Lynch was arrested in April and subsequently charged with 14 counts of lewd conduct with a child stemming from alleged attacks on the four women when they were between 7 and 13 years old from March, 1967, to July, 1972.

Fleetwood, who faces eight criminal counts as an accomplice, was arrested in Florida, where she lives with her husband.

Frey said that the Lynch case is the second she knows of in which the new law has been challenged. A Municipal Court judge in Mendocino County previously denied a defense attorney’s request to dismiss charges against his client on the grounds that the law should not be applied retroactively.

Advertisement

Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) wrote the law that Lynch and Fleetwood have been charged under after learning of the case of Susan Jarreau, an Encino resident who says she was sexually abused as a child but did not remember the incidents until 10 years later.

Jarreau could not file criminal charges against her alleged abuser because the state statute of limitations, which covers all crimes but murder, barred prosecution more than six years after the alleged crime.

The trial of Lynch and Fleetwood becomes the latest conflict over the theory of “recovered memory syndrome,” which has divided the mental health profession since it surfaced in the late 1980s.

Some psychologists contend that child victims repress memories of sexual abuse but can retrieve them, sometimes in great detail, in therapy years later. Critics maintain the “memories” are caused by overzealous therapists using questionable techniques that plant false recollections in the minds of their patients.

In a landmark malpractice suit last month, a jury in Napa concluded that two therapists destroyed a man’s life by implanting false memories of sexual abuse in his daughter’s mind, awarding him $500,000 in damages. Gary Ramona, 50, a former Robert Mondavi wine executive, brought the suit, saying he lost his family, job and reputation after his daughter accused him of sexual abuse in 1990.

*

The outcome of the Ramona case sharply contrasts with the highly publicized case of George T. Franklin, who was sentenced to life in prison for the fatal beating of Susan Nason, 8, of San Mateo in 1969.

Advertisement

The case was set in motion when Franklin’s daughter Eileen said she suddenly recalled a long-repressed memory, while looking into her own daughter’s eyes, of watching her father rape Nason in the family van and beat her with a rock.

Advertisement