BOSTON (CBS) — The attorney for convicted child rapist Wayne Chapman criticized the call to revamp the civil commitment system for registered sex offenders.
“I am often critical about just how unjust and ineffective our civil commitment laws are. I believe the process is actually too restrictive, often resulting in unneccesary detention of men who pose no risk to the public,” said Attorney Eric Tennen at a press conference with Dr. Joe Plaud.
Tennen represents 70-year-old Wayne Chapman as he is set to be released following a 30-year prison sentence and another 11 years being civilly committed. Chapman was convicted of raping two boys from Lawrence in 1977. He was also listed as a “person of interest” in the case of a missing 10-year-old Lawrence boy in 1976 and eventually admitted that he molested at least 100 young boys.
Two psychological experts recently decided he was no longer a threat to the public, giving the green light for Chapman’s release.
Word of his release sparked denunciation of the system that allowed it.
Gov. Charlie Baker has said he does not believe Chapman should ever be released from prison. He argued the fact that the approval for Chapman’s release relied on two experts and not a jury or a judge is problematic.
The governor told reporters, “I believe that the recommendation here, which is he is no longer a danger, which is based on his physical condition and not on his state of mind, is enormously problematic.” Baker then promised to file for legislation that would increase penalties for child rapists and change the process.
Tennen responded by saying that sex offenders re-offend less than any other type of offender, and if the system was actually flawed, we would have known by now. Also, if society is going to employ the idea of civil commitment, it must understand that it can not be permanent.
“That there is now a sudden push to change this legislation, is not a sign that the process is broken, it is an understandable emotional reaction to the news that Wayne Chapman was going to be released…Before the news of Wayne Chapman’s release was reported, no one indicated there was a problem with this process. Gov. Baker never once commented on our broke civil commitment process,” said Tennen.
“His legislation is a solution in search of a problem.”
Last week, new criminal charges were brought against Chapman. According to a spokesperson for the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, Chapman allegedly exposed and touched himself in front of prison nurses several times in his cell on June 3 and 4. He pleaded not guilty to charges of indecent exposure, lewd, wanton and lascivious acts and open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior. Both Tennen and Plaud, a psychologist who evaluates and treated sex offenders, are skeptical of this latest development.
While Tennen is not representing him in the criminal case, he noted on Monday that this is the first time in the decades-long incarceration of Chapman, that he has been accused of any sexual wrongdoing — and it falls right before his planned release.
“We should be skeptical and cautious when the government openly criticizes a lawful process and then manages to avoid the result they did not want. That is a dangerous precedent,” said Tennon.
He continued, “Like all things with Wayne Chapman, the public has only been given some of the information. The public has been given allegations, rhetoric, and reasons to panic…as the case progresses, facts will emerge.”
Plaud said he believed Baker was spreading falsehoods throughout the entire case and the media was focusing their energy in the wrong place. He stressed that Chapman’s age is an important, but not exclusive, push towards his release.
“[Baker] has been downplaying the fact that the age doesn’t matter at all in this case and that’s just not true. His current mental status is something that has been evaluated through detailed work with a professional to the qualified examiners in this case. The governor doesn’t know anything about that…and then he piggybacks on that by saying, ‘oh, they’re just saying it’s just because of the age,” said Plaud. “It’s so easy to say it’s just because of one thing, it’s never about one thing.”
At 70-years-old and in declining health, Chapman’s immobility played into the experts’ decision.
“One of the things you have to look at in all of these cases if the person is released, what is going to happen to them? And again, one of the things that is not getting a lot of play in Mr. Chapman’s case is how medically compromised he is,” said Tennon. “He cannot take care of himself and it is in that context that Dr. Bell said he’s not sexually dangerous because he is not going to any setting in which he will have access children or not be supervised in any way and beyond that, he’s very limited physically and mentally in what he can do.”
If released, Chapman would go to an institution or hospital-type setting, Tennon said, and given his level three sex offender status, he would never come near a child.
“We are getting better at respecting the needs of victims and trying our best to accommodate them in these matters. I understand why Wayne Chapman’s victims never want him to be released,” said Tennon.