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Jury in LA finds prominent geneticist guilty of molestation

World-renowned geneticist William French Anderson was once a runner-up for Time magazine’s Man of the Year for his role in developing gene therapy, a promising yet controversial treatment that involves injecting healthy genes into sick patients.

Now Anderson, convicted Wednesday of molesting the young daughter of a colleague, must undergo a psychiatric evaluation before his sentencing in November.

Though Anderson’s lawyer argued the scientist should stay free to continue his important work, Superior Court Judge Michael E. Pastor ordered Anderson jailed. The scientist, who faces a maximum of 22 years in prison, had been free on bond during the trial. “While Dr. Anderson is statutorily eligible for probation, he is clearly facing possible decades in prison,” Pastor said.

Although the judge said he was impressed with Anderson’s demeanor during the trial, he said he was not comfortable allowing the scientist to remain free. Among other things, he cited an e-mail Anderson wrote to the victim suggesting he might commit suicide if the allegations became public and saying he had bought a gun and ammunition.

“He has had two and half years to blow his brains out and he didn’t,” said Anderson’s lawyer, Barry Tarlow.

He said the e-mail was evidence that Anderson did not have great social skills: “Nothing about having a 176 IQ means you have good judgment,” Tarlow said.

Prosecutors said Anderson molested the girl from 1997 to 2001 and that the abuse began during Saturday morning tae kwon do lessons at his home in San Marino, a wealthy suburb east of Los Angeles.

Tarlow had argued during the three-week trial that his client was a kindly mentor to the girl and was being smeared by her mother, whom he said wanted to assume Anderson’s position at USC.