SJC: Child rapist should be released

Wayne Chapman

BOSTON — The state's highest court has ruled Wayne Chapman can be released from prison, but the serial child rapist and longtime suspect in a Lawrence cold case will remain behind bars for now. 

In a decision handed down Thursday morning, the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a Superior Court judge's order to release Chapman must be followed.

However, Chapman now faces additional criminal charges for offending while in state prison last June, according to documents. His bail stands at $25,000 in this Middlesex Superior Court case and a defense attorney previously said he was indigent, meaning it is unclear if he could meet bail in order to be released under the new ruling.

"I don't anticipate him being able to post bail," said Eric Tennen, one of Chapman's defense attorneys, Thursday afternoon. 

Chapman has admitted to abusing some 100 boys in the United States and Canada, starting when he was a child himself.  

If and when he's released, Chapman, 71, will need to go to a facility that can manage his deteriorating health, Tennen said.

The SJC decision "just eliminates one of the obstacles from him being released," Tennen said.

"It's really an unremarkable decision," he explained. "We agree the law remains the law." 

Victims learned of Chapman's potential release in spring 2018 from a Massachusetts state prison after more than 40 years. Through an attorney they fought the move, filing petitions with the SJC.

Chapman was convicted of raping two boys in Lawrence in 1975. He also admitted to sexually assaulting as many as 100 other boys and remains a longtime suspect in the August 1976 disappearance of Angelo “Andy” Puglisi Jr., 10, who vanished from a South Lawrence swimming pool.

Many people in the Greater Lawrence area remember the intense search for Andy after his disappearance, as well as re-openings of the case over the years.

Chapman became eligible for release from prison May 21, 2018, when two qualified examiners — Dr. Gregg Belle and Dr. Katrin Rouse Weir — said he is too old and sick to re-offend.

Boston attorney Wendy Murphy quickly jumped in to represent Chapman’s victims and filed appeals with the state’s Supreme Judicial Court to keep him in prison.

In its decision Thursday the SJC stated, "We affirm the Superior Court judge's order allowing Wayne Chapman's petition for release from civil commitment because neither of two qualified examiners found him presently to be sexually dangerous."

When asked about the court decision, Gov. Charlie Baker pointed to legislation he has filed previously "to keep serial child predators behind bars." 

In a statement released Thursday, Baker said he "remains committed to working with the Legislature to strengthen Massachusetts law and keep dangerous criminals out of our communities."

In the new case that originated at the skilled nursing center at MCI-Shirley, Chapman was "witnessed by staff with his genitals exposed on one occasion and observed masturbating on another occasion in full view of the Department of Corrections employees and nursing staff," Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said in a statement.

He was indicted by the Middlesex County grand jury on charges of open and gross lewdness, wanton and lascivious acts and as a habitual offender.

A trial in Middlesex Superior Court is scheduled for June 10, 2019.

Tennen said previously that if he ever was released from prison, Chapman would have to go to a specialized facility that can accommodate his daily medical needs.

He has a number of significant medical issues, including Parkinson’s disease, heart and stomach problems, incontinence, high blood pressure, migraines, depression, and mobility issues. He also underwent a prostatectomy. 

On Thursday, Tennen said Chapman's medical issues are "the same or worse ... The trajectory with these type of things is usually downward." 

"He cannot live independently," said Tennen, adding that a facility willing to care for Chapman if he's released has not yet been located.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.