|Alleged Victim of
Priest Says He Was Conflicted
By Annmarie Timmins
"There was a lot of good that came out of that relationship. It wasn't all bad," said the alleged victim, who cried while describing how his own father's drinking left him feeling unloved. "Although it was wrong and I've spent the better part of my adult life trying to forget it . . . the good always outweighed the bad."
The man, now a 33-year-old state trooper, came forward last year after Robichaud's name did not appear on a publicized list of priests accused of sexual misconduct because he wanted to protect others from similar abuse.
Robichaud, 59, is on trial in Belknap County Superior Court on charges he raped and attempted to rape the man in the mid-1980s, when the man was 15. Robichaud did not react during the man's testimony. For a second day, he came to court wearing his clerical collar, a violation of the administrative leave he's been on since his arrest in April 2002.
The police charged Robichaud, of Sanbornton, last year after secretly tape- recording him apologizing to his alleged victim, who agreed to confront Robichaud while wearing a body wire.
Robichaud's attorney, Peter Callaghan of Concord, is disputing not only the truth of the man's allegations but also the assertion that the alleged victim was a minor at the time - and an unwilling participant. The alleged victim has acknowledged that he did not always resist Robichaud's advances but said it was because he was too scared or unnerved.
Callaghan said the evidence will show that it's possible that the alleged victim was not 15, as the charges assert, but 16 - old enough to legally consent.
"It doesn't matter what you think about what might have happened," Callaghan told jurors. "If (the alleged victim) was 16 years old, there was no crime."
That question of age will likely be a big one for jurors, who can convict Robichaud only if they conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged victim was younger than 16. Callaghan pointed jurors to inconsistencies in the evidence: The alleged victim told the state police during a job interview in 1996 that he was abused when he was 16. Last year, the man told police investigators that he could have been 15 or 16, Callaghan said.
Yesterday, even the alleged victim expressed some doubts about his age.
"Am I absolutely 100 percent sure that I was 15?" the man said to jurors. "No. But I am confident that I was 15."
The alleged victim said he eventually narrowed down his age by determining where the alleged incident fit within the sports he played during junior high and high school. Belknap County Attorney Lauren Noether tried to satisfy the age question for jurors by asking the victim to walk them through his own calculations.
For two hours, the man recalled from memory and in incredible detail his high school athletics. He knew how many games he pitched his senior year; what sport he was playing when he sprained his ankle and how many games his football team played in its regular season - and playoff season.
Last week, the alleged victim put all that information, in addition to the dates of summer jobs and a high school romance, down on a timeline. With that in front of him, he said he was able to confidently date Robichaud's alleged abuse to the year he was 15.
"Before I did that, I had considerable doubt about whether I was 15 or 16 at the cottage," he said. "I believe now I was 15."
Callaghan is expected to cross-examine the alleged victim today with questions about his conclusion.
The alleged victim met Robichaud in the early 1980s when Robichaud arrived at his parish in Swanzey to take over for an elderly priest who had just died. Within about a year, Robichuad had begun paying extra attention to the alleged victim, inviting him to dinner at the rectory, taking him on boat rides and overnight stays at his cottage and even on a trip to Rome.
"He cared. He listened to me," the man said. "He would tell me jokes. I would get hugs from him when I wasn't getting them from my dad. It felt nice."
What began as innocent hugs and kisses escalated to sexual advances, according to the man, who said he silently endured the molestation between the ages of 13 and 15.
The alleged victim continued to spend time with Robichaud after the 1985 incident, he said, although the abuse stopped. Noether asked yesterday why he didn't report Robichaud or stop seeing him.
"Who (was) going to believe me? And part of me accepted it because of the things I was getting," he said. "Part of it I liked. I liked the hugs when he welcomed me (to the rectory.) I liked the dinners and the trip to Italy. And all the small things he did to make me feel wanted and needed by somebody."
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 224-5301, ext. 323 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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