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A court officer pushed convicted child rapist Wayne Chapman into a courtroom last year.
A court officer pushed convicted child rapist Wayne Chapman into a courtroom last year.Chris Christo/Pool/Pool

Convicted child rapist Wayne Chapman was found not guilty Friday of fondling himself in front of prison staff, and his acquittal means he will be released to the public, according to the Middlesex district attorney’s office.

That office confirmed that a jury found Chapman not guilty of open and gross lewdness and lewd, wanton, and lascivious acts.

Authorities had alleged that Chapman, a serial sex offender, had masturbated and exposed himself in front of prison workers in June of last year at MCI-Shirley.

Chapman’s sex crimes involving children date back more than 40 years. He is 71-years-old, according to the state’s sex offender registry.

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In September 1977, Chapman was convicted of raping two boys in Lawrence and sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison, according to records. A year later, he was convicted of several more sex offenses for attacks on four boys in 1974 and 1975.

Lawrence police have called Chapman a person of interest in the disappearance of 10-year-old Andy Puglisi in 1976, but he hasn’t been charged in connection with that case.

In September 1976, police arrested Chapman on charges of murdering 5-year-old David Louison of Brockton two years earlier, but a Plymouth County grand jury found insufficient evidence to indict him.

After years of failing to convince the courts and forensic experts that he could safely return to society, Chapman finally succeeded last year in getting two psychologists to conclude he was no longer sexually dangerous, clearing the way for his release.

At least one of Chapman’s victims and others connected to his crimes publicly protested his impending release.

However, the state’s highest court has ordered the release of 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.

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The case drew the attention of Governor Charlie Baker, who last year filed legislation to punish serial child rapists with a life-without-parole sentence and give judges an expanded role in deciding when sexually dangerous persons are freed. Baker refiled legislation aimed at toughening penalties for child rapists earlier this year.

Baker’s bill would mandate that any disagreement among experts would result in a trial at which a judge or jury could hear evidence about whether a person remains sexually dangerous and make a decision about release.

Anisha Chakrabarti, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, referenced that legislation in a statement on Friday, saying the governor “urges the Legislature to pass this bill in order to strengthen Massachusetts law and keep dangerous criminals out of our communities going forward.”

Chapman was on the verge of release after four decades behind bars when he was indicted by a Middlesex grand jury last year for allegedly fondling himself in front of prison staff.

Wendy Murphy, an attorney who represents several of Chapman’s victims, said in a statement issued after the verdict that her clients are “horrified that a man who boasted about raping 100 children is now free.”

Murphy added, “This horrendous perversion of justice that led to the release of a monster must never happen again.”

Eric Tennen, the attorney representing Chapman, said he does not think his client is a danger to the public.

“He’s been incarcerated for over 40 years and that’s long enough,” he said.

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Travis Andersen and John R. Ellement of Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.