The state’s highest court on Thursday ordered the release of convicted serial child rapist Wayne Chapman, ruling he can no longer be civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person because two mental health professionals have concluded he is no longer a threat to public safety.
Chapman was convicted of raping and sexually assaulting six boys in the 1970s and is considered by Lawrence police a person of interest in the 1976 disappearance of 10-year-old Andy Puglisi. He also was investigated, but not charged, in connection with the 1974 murder of 5-year-old David Louison in Brockton.
Chapman was first imprisoned in the Department of Correction system in the 1970s, but later found to be a sexually dangerous person and civilly committed to the Massachusetts Treatment Center, a DOC facility in Bridgewater with a medium-security prison setting.
Under the state’s sexually dangerous person law, once two “qualified examiners” find the person is no longer a threat, he or she must be released. Two psychologists reached that conclusion last year regarding Chapman, triggering a public outcry that led to the fight settled by the Supreme Judicial Court Thursday.
“Where both qualified examiners conclude that the individual is not sexually dangerous, the balance shifts in favor of discharge,’’ Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants wrote for the unanimous court.
Chapman won’t get out immediately. He remains jailed on charges of open and gross lewdness and lewd, wanton, and lascivious acts stemming from incidents on June 3 and June 4, 2018, at MCI-Shirley, where he allegedly exposed himself to staffers. He has pleaded not guilty.
The 71-year-old remains in a DOC medical facililty, said Eric Tennen, Chapman’s attorney, because he needs daily assistance. Tennen said he hopes Chapman will be acquitted at next month’s trial, setting the stage for him to go free.
“I don’t think that he is going to die behind bars,’’ Tennen said. “At least, I hope he is not going to die behind bars.”
Tennen welcomed the court’s decision but said that as a matter of law it was “unremarkable” because the full court had reinforced a precedent they established a decade ago. “And during that time, the Legislature could have changed the law if they wanted to. They didn’t,” he said. “So the SJC saw no reason to change it.”
The SJC rejected arguments from Attorney General Maura Healey and the Baker administration that the court should leave it up to juries or a judge to decide whether the qualified examiners got it right, and that the state should be allowed to keep Chapman in custody until such a trial.
Based on DOC data on sex offenders released between 2015 and 2017, along with a 2018 Boston Globe analysis about the outcome when juries or a judge decide whether someone is sexually dangerous, the SJC said it did not see the ruling creating a public safety risk.
The state has “failed to provide any evidence” that the court’s rulings have “compromised public safety,” Gants wrote, noting that 49 people were freed from the treatment center between 2015 and 2017 and only one was arrested afterward, charged with stealing a car.
The Globe found that between 2009 and 2017, an average of 20 people were cleared for release annually after findings that they were no longer sexually dangerous.
“It’s disturbing that the SJC sees no problem with two qualified examiners, employed by a for-profit company with no accountability to the public, making the decision to release a sex offender without any oversight or review by a judge,” said attorney Wendy Murphy, who represents several of Chapman’s victims.
“Two examiners clearly got it wrong in this case because Wayne Chapman committed new sex crimes behind bars after they deemed him safe for release. The qualified examiner process . . . does not adequately protect public safety, but the public is paying their fees. Why waste taxpayer money on a process designed not to protect the public interest?” she said.
“The SJC should have fixed the problem because they created it. But since they didn’t do that, my clients and I hope to work with Governor [Charlie] Baker’s office to help change the law. The decisions of qualified examiners should always be subject to review in the courts,” she said.
Brendan Moss, Baker’s press secretary, said in a statement that Baker “previously filed legislation to keep serial child predators behind bars, and remains committed to working with the Legislature to strengthen Massachusetts law and keep dangerous criminals out of our communities.’’