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  Robichaud trial ends in hung jury
Outcome not expected to affect pending abuse cases

By Annmarie Timmins
Concord Monitor
April 24, 2003

http://www.concordmonitor.com/stories/front2003/0423mistrial_2003.shtml

LACONIA - The state's first criminal trial of a priest named in the clergy sexual abuse scandal ended in a mistrial yesterday after the jury deliberated nearly 14 hours over three days without reaching a verdict.

One juror said yesterday that all 12 jurors believed that the Rev. George Robichaud was guilty of rape and attempted rape but that two jurors were unwilling to convict him because conflicting testimony questioned whether Robichaud's accuser was a minor at the time.

"We were butting heads in there, certainly," said Thomas Croft of Barnstead. "I totally believed the (alleged) victim. The other nine absolutely did too."

A second juror, Tyler Kupetz of Laconia, confirmed the 10-2 split last night and said he was with the majority, but he declined to discuss the reasons for deadlock. The other jurors, including the foreman, either declined comment or could not be reached.

The jury began deliberating Monday afternoon and reportedly asked to speak to Judge Harold Perkins as early as Tuesday afternoon about being deadlocked. Perkins did not receive jurors then, but he did agree to meet with them yesterday around noon when they announced a second time that they could not reach a verdict.

Perkins encouraged jurors to continue deliberations but to not surrender their convictions just to reach a verdict. At Perkins's urging, jurors deliberated for a little more than an hour and a half before announcing around 1:30 p.m. that they could not agree. Perkins dismissed them.

Prosecutors will retry Robichaud on the two sexual assault charges, possibly as early as June, according to Dana Zucker, the clerk of the Belknap County Superior Court. He faces another criminal trial in October on separate charges that he sexually assaulted a Concord man nearly 20 years ago.

Lead prosecutor Lauren Noether, the Belknap County attorney, did not return a phone call yesterday. The alleged victim also could not be reached. Defense attorney Peter Callaghan of Concord declined to comment, citing the pending retrial.

Robichaud, 59, of Sanbornton has been unavailable for comment since his arrest a year ago. His was the first case to go to trial since the state attorney general's office began investigating clergy sexual abuse in New Hampshire 14 months ago.

While the state pursued child endangerment charges against the Diocese of Manchester, it left the criminal investigations of individual priests to the county attorneys. State prosecutors concluded their investigation in December with a landmark victory that forced the diocese to drastically improve the way it handles abusive priests.

Yesterday's deadlock did not continue that momentum, but observers cautioned against giving the mistrial too much significance.

"This case was going to be won or lost based on its own set of facts," said James Rosenberg, an assistant attorney general who helped investigate the state's child endangerment case against the diocese. "I don't think one case changes the general outcome of the situation."

Rosenberg did not believe the mistrial would impact future criminal prosecutions of abusive priests, Robichaud included.

Attorney Peter Hutchins of Manchester has settled nearly 60 civil cases against priests and the diocese in the last year and is currently pursuing a civil claim against Robichaud on behalf of the Concord man who is the subject of the second set of criminal charges.

Hutchins said the details of yesterday's mistrial actually left him encouraged. "It appears that all 12 jurors believed the abuse did take place and only two had doubts about the age issue," he said. "This is about as close to a victory the prosecution could have gotten without getting a conviction."

David Clohessy oversees a national support group of clergy abuse victims called SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests) that recently began holding support group meetings in Manchester. Clohessy followed Robichaud's trial on the Internet from his office in St. Louis and was left disappointed but also hopeful by the outcome.

"Oftentimes the public perception is that one victim comes forward and then a bunch do, when in reality, just the reverse is true," he said. "There are often 10 or 20 victims and when one comes forward they breathe a sign of relief because they want to help other people, but they don't have to take the risk themselves.

"My hunch is that this (mistrial) could bring out more victims or witnesses who now know that they have no choice because (one victim) can't do it alone," Clohessy continued. "I think the lesson here is that others who know or suspected this abusive priest really need to step forward."

To convict Robichaud, county prosecutors needed to convince jurors that he was a priest who had abused his authority to sexually assault a 15-year-old boy twice in 1985. Age became the troublesome part of that equation during the first day of deliberations and continued to be so.

The alleged victim admitted from the witness stand a slight uncertainty about whether he was still a minor when he was allegedly assaulted. He acknowledged that he could have actually been 16, too old to support criminal charges according to 1985 sexual assault laws.

He tried to reassure by saying he was "95 percent" certain - enough to be "confident" that he was a minor.

Ten of those jurors decided 95 percent certainty was enough to convict Robichaud, according to Croft. Two of them, one man and one woman, did not. The man declined to comment, and the woman could not be reached.

This was Tyler Kupetz's first trial. He said he believed the alleged victim and everyone else who testified. He disliked that Robichaud wore his clerical collar to court, especially after learning the diocese had ordered him not wear in during his administrative leave.

He wished it had ended differently. "I'm glad it's over," he said. "But I'm disappointed that we were not able to come to the same conclusion. It's not that I'm upset with the other two members who did not come to my conclusion. But it would be nice if this didn't have to go to trial again."

 
 

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