Wayne Chapman was convicted of abusing eleven children in three states, and admitted to molesting a hundred, but he was nearly released from prison recently on the say so of two psychologists. Sentenced in the late 1970s for raping several children, Chapman long ago finished his criminal sentence and has been held since 2004 as a “sexually dangerous person.” He filed many petitions for release, but they were all denied until this year, when two “Qualified Examiners” (QE) said he was no longer dangerous.
Chapman’s case became a big news story a month ago when his victims received calls from the Department of Corrections (DOC) saying Chapman would be released “as soon as tomorrow.” The victims were very upset about his release, and they were angry because they were entitled to 14 days advance notice, but got less than 24 hours. 14 days was not possible, they were told, because the 2009 Johnstone ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) says that if two QEs agree that a person is not dangerous, the person is entitled to release without a trial. The victims called the Attorney General, the DOC, the District Attorney, and the Governor but were told there was nothing they could do.
The victims took matters into their own hands, and won a temporary hold on Chapman’s release. Then Chapman helped the victims’ cause immensely by committing another sex crime behind bars, on the very day that the 14-day notice period expired. Offenses behind bars are usually handled as internal disciplinary matters, but the victims were so angry — several were men in their 50s who spoke publicly about what Chapman did to them for the first time in their lives — that DOC officials seized the opportunity to charge Chapman in court so he could be held without bail no matter what happened with the QE reports.
Then the same government officials who said nothing could be done started helping. The Attorney General, District Attorney, and DOC filed briefs supporting the victims’ SJC case, and the Governor filed new legislation.
The Governor’s proposal would create a new review board with the ability to override the QE opinions. The Governor also wants mandatory life without parole for certain offenders. The bill is a good start, but it should not have taken nine years and the near release of Wayne Chapman for someone to notice that the system needed fixing.
A review board may have prevented the Chapman debacle because, at a minimum, someone would have seen that one of the QEs did the math wrong when adding up Chapman’s test score on his risk for reoffending. The QE gave him a score of minus 3 for being over age 60, and minus 1 for being between the ages of 40 and 59.9, at the age of release. This double discount gave Chapman an end score of five rather than six. A six would have put him at the highest risk for reoffending. A five put him in a lower risk category. Review by a panel would have identified this serious mistake.
A review panel is smart, but it doesn’t go far enough because the SJC said QEs should be appointed “by the court.” Yet, since Johnstone, they have been appointed instead by their own private for-profit company. The Governor’s bill doesn’t address this problem.
With judicial involvement in the appointment process, one of the QEs in Chapman’s case would have been disqualified because she had examined Chapman several times in the past, and always determined that he was not sexually dangerous. With judicial involvement in the appointment process, this would have been brought to the court’s attention, and she could have been rejected as too biased. The Governor’s bill should be amended to mandate judicial appointments of QEs, and change the definition of “Qualified Examiner” so that “qualified” means not only educated, but also independent, impartial, and unbiased.
The Governor’s proposal for mandatory life without parole also needs fixing as it would only apply to offenders convicted upon a “single indictment” of two or more rapes of a child using force or threat of bodily injury, in which the victims are two different children. This would not have led to life behind bars for Wayne Chapman because, like most offenders, he never had to use force or threat of bodily injury to subdue his victims. His age and size alone enabled him to complete his attacks easily. Life behind bars should be mandatory for repeat child sex offenders irrespective of whether they use force. Why should anyone walk free after being convicted twice of raping a child? Even those who support prison reform will agree that incarceration for life is not uncivilized for men like Wayne Chapman. Indeed, it is the most civilized thing we can do.
Professor of sexual violence law
Wendy Murphy is adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England Law|Boston where she has taught for fifteen years. An impact litigator whose work in state and federal courts around the country has changed the law to improve protections for women’s and children’s constitutional rights, she developed and directs several projects in conjunction with the school’s Center for Law and Social Responsibility.