By Alexander Ramirez, Jake Romero, Darling Gonzalez
OAKLAND, CA — Dr. Christopher Fischer testified in Alameda County Superior Court Monday, in the ongoing trial of Howard Sipe involving an alleged parole violation in 2010 and recent overt acts.
The defense enlisted Fischer—a forensic psychiatrist who has studied and worked closely with sexual predators—to determine if Sipe is more inclined to commit sexual offenses due to an underlying mental disorder. The 63-year-old defendant has a lengthy criminal record, which includes three violent sexual assaults in the 1980s and 90s.
“I don’t think he has that kind of mental disorder as defined in the statute, or actually any mental disorder at all in his life at this point,” Dr. Fischer said.
He also said he does not believe the defendant, if released, is likely to reoffend in a violent sexual manner. Dr. Fischer partly based his opinions on his review of nearly 7,000 pages of records, interviews with Sipe at Coalinga State Hospital and consultations with other clinical psychologists.
Defense attorney David Bryden noted other psychologists had diagnosed Sipe with antisocial personality disorder.
According to Fischer, Sipe’s participation in various programs at the hospital such as “Men Convicted of Rape” and his displays of introspection during interviews are incongruent with that diagnosis. Even if Sipe had shown possible signs of antisocial personality disorder previously, this may also change over time, Fischer explained.
Fischer also ruled out sexual sadism disorder because it was inconsistent with the nature of Sipe’s offenses.
“…Sipe wouldn’t be a sadistic rapist. He would be an angry rapist because, while there was some force and some violence during his offenses…no torture…no mutilation…no ritualized violence. They make a distinction as well that sadistic rapists often have, there’s evidence that they carefully planned their offenses, not only to go along with the deviant fantasy driving it but also to avoid detection. They take a lot of steps to do that. That’s certainly not true when we look at Sipe’s history,” explained Fischer.
Dr. Fischer discussed the method by which professionals determine the sexual recidivism rate of a person with prior incidents. He said they use what is called a “Static 99R” and it is a set of 10 items that each give a certain score that is added together.
Fischer added there is a shortcoming to the Static 99R that includes the fact that there is no real way for a score to go down, other than a person’s age. Constant offenses would mean the score would constantly go up, even if Fischer previously argued that the qualities of these offenders can change over time and the likelihood of someone committing another offense is actually much lower.
Considering Sipe’s case is fairly old, Fischer argues that he is less of a risk than it may seem.
During the cross-examination, Dr. Fischer was questioned by Deputy District Attorney Danielle London about the effectiveness of engagement in therapy and treatment for sex offenders.
DDA London asked, “Would you agree that one could engage in therapy and treatment but not reap the benefits of that treatment as a general hypothesis?”
Dr. Fischer responded, “Some, what we call, ‘treated sex offenders’ do reoffend although the number is much smaller of those without any treatment.”
DDA London then listed sources of information for evaluation of Sipe in Dr. Fischer’s report, which included state hospital records. However, London revealed that Dr. Fischer had also read some police reports of some prior offenses but they were not listed in his sources of information on his report.
Previous SVP evaluations from 2020 were the only sources mentioned in his evaluation of Sipe. A prior 2010 evaluation had not been listed as a source of information in the report.
Dr. Fischer ultimately admitted that he did not mention a thorough review of documentation and that he may have “relied on secondary accounts of that incident” in his evaluation, and agreed with London’s question: “Wouldn’t it be a best practice for you, yourself, to review the original records and not rely on other peoples’ summaries of them?”
London also summarized for Dr. Fischer the testimonies of two women related to an offense Sipe committed in 1980. One of these women was the victim and the other alleged that Sipe had confessed his involvement in the crime to her.
“That account of that offense is completely tragic, and it’s almost unimaginable that she had to go through that,” Dr. Fischer said. “But the issue of ‘does Sipe have a mental disorder?’ is different.”
London then began to describe the extent of the sexual assault of the victim which resulted in internal injury and led to lasting medical issues to this day.
London asked Dr. Fischer, “Does that give you additional information and facts to consider in your ultimate opinion of this case?”
Dr. Fischer replied, “Yes.”