Scientist Guilty of Child Sexual Abuse
An esteemed scientist known as “the father of gene therapy” was convicted Wednesday of sexually abusing a child 50 years his junior.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found USC research director William French Anderson, 69, guilty of four counts of continuous sex abuse and lewd acts toward a child under 14. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 22 years.
Anderson, who had warned his victim that her accusations would prevent him from saving lives through medical cures and disillusion those who viewed him as “a model of the right way to live,” was jailed immediately.
Anderson, director of USC’s Gene Therapy Laboratories, focused on stem cell research and correcting defective genes in fetuses.
His accuser, now a 19-year-old college student, is the daughter of Anderson’s second in command at the lab. In addition to employing the girl’s mother, Anderson had been a close family friend.
The jury of 10 men and two women took a little more than a day to reach its verdict. Silver-haired and square-jawed, Anderson, dressed in a gray wool suit, looked straight ahead as the jury verdicts were read by the court clerk.
His wife, Kathryn Anderson, sat with her hands clasped and eyes closed as Blair Berk, one of her husband’s lawyers, kept a hand firmly on her shoulder.
As Judge Michael E. Pastor thanked the jury for their service, Anderson turned to his wife and smiled. She did not meet his gaze.
Barry Tarlow, Anderson’s lead defense attorney, told reporters he had no comment but would appeal.
Outside the courtroom, Deputy Dist. Atty. Cathryn F. Brougham said the verdict showed the jury “did not allow his status, his high education and his professional reputation to stand in the way of the truth.”
The victim and her family did not appear in court. Brougham said she spoke briefly by telephone with the victim after the verdict. “She was very pleased, and very emotional,” Brougham said.
Anderson’s stature had been a focal point of the trial. His lawyers had claimed the accusations against him were part of an attempt by the girl’s mother to take over his lab by destroying his reputation.
Prosecutors argued that Anderson’s position and influence were tools he used to manipulate his victim. Deputy Dist. Atty. James W. Garrison said the victim, who immigrated with her family from China and had none of Anderson’s wealth or influence, was concerned about the apparent disparity of power. “She knew what she was taking on,” he said.
Anderson began teaching the girl taekwondo at his San Marino home in 1997, when she was 10 and Anderson was 60. She claimed the abuse started during the lessons and continued for five years.
Anderson had also helped the girl with soccer and her studies. He helped her get into a Stanford University summer program and advised her on social skills such as how to introduce herself to people.
There were gifts: a bicycle for Christmas, a prom dress. The girl and her twin sister, who lived nearby in a comparatively modest house, swam in Anderson’s pool and built a treehouse with him in his spacious yard. They used his house for a sleepover party for their friends.
Anderson took the girl to dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pasadena. He testified during the trial that he meant to expand her range of experiences; a minister who had been his mentor had done the same for him when he was a boy in Tulsa, taking him to his first nice restaurant and teaching him to eat oysters.
From those simple beginnings, Anderson went on to college at Harvard, where he competed as a runner and excelled academically.
He went on to Cambridge University in England, where he met his future wife in an anatomy class. Anderson married Kathryn Dorothy Duncan in 1962.
Anderson has said in interviews with writers that the couple decided not to have children in order to focus on their careers. Kathryn Anderson retired two years ago as chief of surgery at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
Anderson emerged from his rags-to-riches early life an eclectic Renaissance man. He has been a competitive martial artist and firearms enthusiast. Before his arrest, he was the only holder of a concealed weapons permit in the city of San Marino. He also held a California security guard license.
On leave from his USC position for the last two years, Anderson has used his time to work on a device to detect DNA evidence at crime scenes, and another for spotting biological weapons on the battlefield, his lawyer Tarlow said. Tarlow cited the work as a reason Anderson should be allowed to turn himself in to prison later rather than be taken from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Pastor denied the request, but allowed Anderson to say goodbye to his wife.
Anderson will undergo evaluations by psychiatrists and prison officials, which Pastor can consider along with the geneticist’s work record in sentencing, which was set for Nov. 17.