Charles Fischer, Austin Psychiatrist, faces up to 11 accusers in child sex abuse trial

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Austin American-Statesman
Ex-state psychiatrist faces up to 11 accusers in child sex abuse trial
By Ryan Autullo
October 23, 2016

Austin Psychiatrist Charles Fischer

Austin Psychiatrist Charles Fischer

Prosecutors could call as many as 11 witnesses who say they were sexually abused by former state psychiatrist Dr. Charles Fischer in a long-awaited trial that is expected to start with opening statements Tuesday.

Travis County state District Judge Karen Sage has blocked off at least two weeks for the trial, which comes after years of delays and an extensive run-up.

Fischer, 64, was charged in 2012 with having sex with five teenage boys who were under his care at the Austin State Hospital from 2001 to 2005. However, jurors could hear testimony about six additional victims, court documents show.

Fischer, who is free on bail, is charged with two counts of sexual assault, nine counts of sexual assault of a child, seven counts of indecency with a child by contact and five counts of indecency with a child by exposure, according to the original indictment.

If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

Patricia Gunning, special prosecutor and inspector general for New York state’s Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, said that, although the case would be strengthened if all 11 alleged victims get a chance to tell their stories to the jury, “that doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk for the prosecution.”

Gunning added, “I think the prosecutors will be looking for patterns of behavior that were employed by the defendant in grooming these young victims.”

Assistant District Attorney Mary Farrington didn’t need to look far for additional accusers. Unpunished complaints against Fischer date to 1992, when a boy from Waco Center for Youth accused Fischer of mistreatment. In 2002, a Travis County grand jury heard additional allegations against Fischer but didn’t indict him, determining evidence to be insufficient for a criminal charge.

Additionally, documents from the Texas Medical Board show seven Austin State Hospital patients made allegations against Fischer between 2001 and 2006.

His 30-year career ended in October, 2011, when investigators confirmed Fischer had sexually abused at least one child in his care. A month later, Fischer was fired and the Texas Medical Board suspended his license, citing nine patients who had accused him of having sex with them in psychiatric facilities in Austin, Waco and San Antonio.

Prosecutors will need Sage’s approval before they can produce testimony on allegations not mentioned in Fischer’s indictment.

While many of the 11 accusers are in their 30s, one is now 40. Another happens to be the victim in another sexual assault case that resulted in suspected Interstate 35 rock thrower Patrick Johnson being sentenced to 99 years last month. And yet another, Ruben Macias, described in detail to the American-Statesman how Fischer locked the door to his office, opened his pants to show he wasn’t wearing underwear and forced Macias into having sex.

All of Fischer’s alleged victims suffered from mental illnesses, which experts say could compromise their testimony and raise doubts for jurors.

“This is not going to be an easy one,” Floyd Jennings, a Harris County attorney and former clinical psychologist, told the Statesman in December. “It’s going to be a lot easier to defend than prosecute.”

Fischer’s defense attorneys, Gerry Morris and Chris Gunter, filed a motion on Oct. 10 to suppress outcry statements made by any of the alleged victims. Outcry statements are allegations of sexual assault made to an adult by someone under the age of 14.

Charles Fischer, Austin Psychiatrist