AUSTIN (KXAN) — The trial has begun in Travis County for a former child psychiatrist accused of molesting boys at the Austin State Hospital.
Dr. Charles “Chuck” Fischer is indicted on multiple charges of sexual assault and indecency with a child in 2012. He now faces five felonies, including two child sexual assault charges.
Both the prosecution and the defense delivered opening statements on Tuesday morning, painting two very different pictures of the man standing trial.
“This picture emerges of a doctor who takes the most vulnerable children, handpicks them, and molests them over a period of years,” said Mary Farrington, a Travis Co. prosecutor, during opening statements.
Prosecutors argue Dr. Fischer used his authority over his young male patients to take advantage of them.
“They’re all in the same boat. They all have a lot of mental health issues. They all have issues. People just weren’t going to believe them,” Farrington said.
As many as 11 accusers could be testifying against the ex-psychiatrist. The state says each of these patients share a similar story.
The first of these was the only witness to take the stand on Tuesday in the 299th criminal district court. This witness is now 29-years-old. He testified that when he was 16, Dr. Fischer molested him on various occasions during therapy sessions in his office at the hospital. We are not releasing the identity of this witness, nor were we allowed to film or record his audio in court in order to protect his identity.
Prosecutors said, like this witness, the alleged victims were being treated by Fischer at the Austin State Hospital, that Fischer took them into his office for therapy, would close his office door, and molest them.
“The defendant was told ‘don’t see kids by yourself behind closed doors,'” said Farrington. “By 2011, when this investigation broke, he was seeing kids in his office with the door closed.”
The defense denied those molestation claims, arguing that the psychiatrist closed the door for privacy reasons.
“The reason the door was closed is because the children that he was doing individual therapy with were talking about very personal things,” explained Gerry Morris, one of Fischer’s defense attorneys, during opening statements. “He would meet with patients there because there was no other place to meet with them in private. The same reason that several of the other professionals would meet with kids in their offices.”
In 2011, Fischer, now 64, was fired from the Austin State Hospital where he worked in the adolescent unit. His medical license was also suspended.
The defense blatantly denies the allegations against their client. They argue that because of the alleged victims’ mental health conditions, they “hated” authority, and therefore, their doctor, Charles Fischer.
“Anybody that was in authority over them was the enemy,” said Morris. He added that because of their mental health histories, the alleged victims could not be seen as credible witnesses. “Many of them were diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. A component of borderline personality disorder is untruthfulness.”
Defense attorneys said their client was an outstanding, dedicated physician who was board certified in child psychiatry. The defense says Fischer had reasons to go to the hospital on weekends and they argue it had nothing to do with inappropriate relations with patients.
“Unfortunately, the mental illness didn’t stop on Friday. He would go in on weekends and do things because he cared,” continued Morris.
The prosecution maintains that the psychiatrist had a “pattern” of sexually assaulting his patients, regardless of his patients’ mental health.
“When you hear about all of them–when you get the big picture about what he’s been up to and how long he’s been up to it, you’ll find him guilty,” said Farrington.
The Department of State Health Services released this statement in 2011:
“We received a report on the afternoon of Oct. 24 from the DFPS [Department of Family Protective Services] that it had confirmed two instances of sexual abuse involving Dr. Fischer. The next morning we put Dr. Fischer on leave and began the process of firing him.”
While out on bail for those charges, in 2013, Fischer was arrested for public lewdness with another man.
Fischer has been investigated several times in the past for similar abuse claims of young boys ages 14 through 18. Authorities say until now, they were unable to prove the psychiatrist had done anything wrong due to a lack of evidence.
Witness testimony will continue at 9 a.m. on Wednesday in Travis County Court.