The Innocence Legal Team Agrees To Champion Case Of Gene Therapy Pioneer
Posted Tuesday, June 4, 2019 - 1:01 pm
By Laura Coleman
There was a time in the early 2000’s when the world was on a trajectory to have cured cancer by now. At the time, the “Father of Gene Therapy,” Dr. William French Anderson, 82, so-named for having successfully performed the world’s first gene therapy procedure, had yet to be arrested for allegedly molesting a girl.
Today, due to extraordinary circumstances, whereby Anderson’s drug trials to cure cancer as head of the Gene Therapy Laboratories at the University of Southern California (USC) led to the lab’s second-in-command, Dr. Yi Zhao, the mother of the alleged victim, pulling a patent in China for the science behind Anderson’s work on IL-12, China could potentially be more than a decade ahead of the United States when it comes to nuclear warfare response. IL-12, which stands for Interleukin-12, can be manipulated to help cells heal faster – ideal to counter the effects of radiation.
After learning of Anderson’s story in 2014 from Bel Air resident and Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamond, Anderson’s onetime roommate at Harvard University, the Courier pursued a three-part series into how this scientific luminary had ended up in prison and the curiosities of the case. Most recently, this month, just days before Anderson marked his one-year anniversary living free after 12 years of incarceration, the Innocence Legal Team agreed to take up his case in pursuit of an exoneration.
“There is no doubt in my mind that French is the victim of espionage,” declared his wife of 58 years, Dr. Kathy Anderson, who had just retired as Chief of Surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles when Anderson was arrested in 2004. “From the moment he told me, from jail, what he was being accused of, I never doubted him.”
Ironically it wasn’t until forensic investigator Dan Haste uncovered documents in 2013 showing that Zhao had taken Anderson’s intellectual property to China after having falsified data to stop the American drug from moving forward toward getting Food and Drug Administration approval, that Anderson said he fully understood that he was the victim of espionage.
According to one news article published in China in 2017, a company Zhao founded in China, Qingdao Litai Kang Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd, plans to one day sell to the U.S. an anti-irradiation drug to help patients with tumors. A 2002 email from USC’s Deputy Director at the time Nolan Gomm to Carol Mauch, currently USC’s Senior Vice President, Legal Affairs, speculated that the value of an anti-irradiation product derived from IL-12 could be around $9 billion.
Haste told the Courier that he discovered clear evidence that Zhao founded her Chinese company to pursue work based on her Asian patent for IL-12, which is nearly identical to an earlier “Provisional Patent” filed in the U.S. on which both Zhao and Anderson are named as authors. Just weeks after the provisional patent lapsed in America, Zhao filed one in China based on the work done under Anderson at USC; this time, sans Anderson’s name.
The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property estimates that the U.S. loses up to $600 billion worth of intellectual property annually, with the main perpetrator being China. A decade after Anderson’s arrest, in fact, six Chinese citizens – including two USC-trained professors who graduated with electrical engineering degrees in 2006 – were charged by the U.S. Justice Department with espionage.
Over the years following his 2006 sentencing, Anderson has attempted to plead his case before nine courts – five state, four federal. All have returned summary denials. Last year, on the precipice of his release from the California Institution for Men in Chino, Anderson unsuccessfully attempted to plead his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This year, having persevered through a sea of summary denials, Anderson appears to finally be getting a legal break. Last June, Anderson testified in federal tax court that his legal expenses defending himself from false allegations should be tax deductible. Following the government’s move for a summary denial, Anderson’s tax attorney, Charles D. Harrison with Eagleton, Eagleton & Harrison, Inc., successfully argued for a full trial on the merits of the case. That trial is currently slated to proceed this October.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Dr. Anderson is completely and factually innocent of what he was charged with,” Harrison said. “His work was stolen. The reason behind the charges that were brought were to steal his intellectual property that he was developing, basically while he was the leader in the field of gene therapy. But because he was the leader in the field, they couldn’t just steal it, because he would be able to stop it. So basically, these false charges were concocted against him.”
In ruling in favor of Anderson’s case moving to trial this past February, Tax Court Federal Judge Joseph W. Nega wrote that based on the record before the court, “there appears to be a genuine dispute as to an issue of material fact regarding Mr. Anderson’s actual innocence.”
While a successful ruling in the tax court would have no direct bearing on Anderson’s criminal habeas case, Anderson said he expected it would have significant influence.
“He has requested us to review the record [and] if we find something, we’ll be raising it by Habeas,” confirmed Anderson’s attorney with the Innocence Legal Team, William Daley. The California law firm specializes in defending wrongful allegations, arrests and convictions for sexual abuse.
Another nuanced tendril of Anderson’s conviction centers on the way in which Anderson was arrested – one month after an L.A. County Sheriff’s sting operation outside the South Pasadena Library yielded a recording that appears to have him apologizing to the alleged victim for molesting her.
In the intervening years since the recording was made in 2004, five technology experts have gone on record in support of Anderson’s claim that the recording was altered.
The recording, which the Courier listened to, begins with the alleged victim sharing a laugh with police who have just secured a hidden microphone on her before exiting their car. After minutes of walking, interrupted only by the alleged victim’s stop inside a bathroom and a few unintelligible lines uttered to people she seemingly knows en route to the steps of the library where she meets Anderson, the girl is silent. When she encounters Anderson, she immediately accuses him of molesting her, beginning a brief conversation where it is clear that she is in control; he comes across as meek and distraught.
“My feeling is that…French has been the victim of unethical behavior by the police,” signal processing expert Pablo Valencia told the Courier. In 2008, Valencia submitted a signed declaration that after having analyzed the digital audio recording using forensic software, he had come to the conclusion that the dialogue was rearranged to make Anderson appear guilty.
In fact, the results of a plethysmography test, which the L.A. County Superior Court judge refused to allow Anderson’s trial attorney to present to the jury in 2006, found that Anderson had no pedophiliac tendencies.
“I had no idea before I went to prison how many factually innocent men and women are wrongfully incarcerated. Legal scholars estimate that there are over 100,000 wrongfully convicted inmates in American prisons,” said Anderson, whose IQ exceeds both Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.
Anderson contends he was set up by the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, who had no idea that the lab he helmed at USC was the target of espionage, in order to nab a “famous scientist.” A onetime runner-up for Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 1994, Anderson’s bail was originally set at $6 million. By comparison, earlier this year musician R. Kelly’s bail was set for $100,000 after he was indicted on 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of four victims. Last year, entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein was arrested for alleged rape following accusations of being a sexual predator by scores of women, with his bail set at $1 million.
While neither Zhao nor her daughter responded to outreach attempts by the Courier after publication of any of the previous articles, the testimony of Anderson’s alleged victim, whom he coached for four years in karate and academically before she made the accusation of molestation, is captured in court documents. And it was her testimony alone, bolstered by emails that showed a close relationship between her and Anderson that appeared to blur the traditional lines of mentee and mentor, in addition to the sting recording, that resulted in Anderson’s conviction.
Anderson asserts that the reason his alleged victim never filed a civil suit after his criminal conviction was because the attorneys who had represented the family realized it was “a set-up.” By comparison, a $34 million civil verdict against O.J. Simpson finding him responsible for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman followed his notorious acquittal for their murder. Indeed, it was that very case that shone a public light on the fact that police are not immune from planting evidence in cases where they suspect guilt.
In point of fact, Zhao didn’t just continue to pioneer Anderson’s research into how to treat cancer by manipulating IL-12. In 2010, a Chinese journal reported that Zhao’s company had successfully tested IL-12 on monkeys as part of its research with a military linked science institute. In warfare, Anderson’s science to cure cancer, by giving healthy cells the ability to swiftly heal from lethal radiation in order to aggressively radiate cancer cells to extinction, would be invaluable for troops who suddenly found themselves victims of a nuclear attack.
“It has enormous military implications [which] I wasn’t thinking about. I was only thinking about cancer,” Anderson said.
To date, USC continues to list Zhao on its website (https://keck.usc.edu/faculty-search/yi-zhao) as Assistant Professor of Research Medicine, despite the fact that there is clear evidence that she used research pioneered at USC to found her company in China.
As of press time, USC’s press room had yet to respond to the Courier’s request for comment.
However, one spokesperson confirmed that the he was currently working to verify if Zhao still worked for USC.