The highest court in Massachusetts in a ruling released Thursday said a convicted child rapist in his 70s can no longer remain civilly committed because two mental health professionals have ruled he is not sexually dangerous.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Wayne Chapman, 71, must be released based on the state's sexually dangerous person law, and rejected arguments from the state attorney general and Gov. Charlie Baker who said it should be up to juries or a judge to decide whether the mental health professionals were correct.
"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.
The court's decision said of the 49 people released from civil commitment between 2015 and 2017 only one was later arrested, and that was for auto theft.
Chapman was convicted in 1977 of luring young boys into the woods in the Lawrence area by pretending he was searching for his missing dog and then sexually assaulting them, according to court records. A court found Chapman had at least 50 victims, and Chapman has said he raped up to 100 children.
He has been civilly committed since his prison sentence ended in 2004, and was scheduled to be freed last May before his release was appealed.
His attorney, Eric Tennen, said Chapman suffers from several medical conditions and needs daily help to function.
Thursday's decision was merely the reinforcement of a precedent the high court established a decade ago, Tennen said.
Despite the decision, Chapman remains held at a prison hospital on $25,000 bail for allegedly exposing himself to prison staff last June.
Tennen said he hopes Chapman will be acquitted of those charges at trial next month, and ultimately freed.
A spokesman for the governor told the Boston Globe that Baker's intent is to protect public safety.
"Governor 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," spokesman Brendan Moss wrote.