|Alleged Sex Assault
Victim Says He Was 15
By Daniel Barrick
LACONIA - In the first day of testimony in the retrial of the Rev. George Robichaud, both sides laid out strategies similar to those they followed in the first trial - with one major change. The slight doubt that the alleged victim, now a 33-year-old state trooper, expressed about his age in the first trial disappeared yesterday. Under questioning, he stated conclusively that he was 15 years old when Robichaud allegedly raped him in 1985.
That age is the key to the trial. If the alleged victim was 16 at the time, no crime occurred, according to statutes then in effect. At the earlier trial, in April, the man said he was "95 percent" certain he was 15. Yesterday, he did not hedge his recollection of his age at all.
Prosecutors framed the case in the context of religious authority, accusing Robichaud of manipulating the boy into a sexual relationship. But Robichaud's lawyer focused only on the facts of the alleged abuse, telling jurors that it's impossible to know for certain how old the priest's accuser was at the time of the alleged assault.
In his second appearance before a Laconia jury, the accuser described the priest, now 60, as a former role model.
"I viewed him more as an older brother, someone I looked up to and wanted to be with, and who I shared some really good times with," the man said. "He'd give me a hug when I came in, and that felt good. . . . I didn't think there was any problem with it."
But that relationship gradually turned sexual, the man said, as Robichaud grew increasingly aggressive in his advances.
Belknap County Attorney Lauren Noether urged jurors to look at the allegation in the context of the Catholic Church, and described the alleged abuse in religious overtones.
"The defendant broke a sacred trust," she said. "He marred a holy relationship."
Spiritual leaders like Robichaud, she said, "guide us in our worship . . . in our spiritual and emotional development. . . . We hold them in a sacred, revered trust."
She described the Robichaud of 20 years ago as "a dynamic young priest. . . . He had an energy about him that nobody could deny, and a charisma that was very attractive."
Robichaud's first trial ended in a mistrial when jurors could not agree on the age of the alleged victim. After the case, several jurors said they were unanimous in their belief that the alleged abuse occurred, but two were not convinced that the victim was 15 at the time, which would make the incident a crime according to statutes in effect in 1985
The alleged victim described his relationship with Robichaud as happiness, mixed with abuse and shame.
"It almost seemed worth putting up with that to get what I did out of the relationship, which was someone to pay attention to me, someone compassionate," he said.
The man spoke calmly throughout his testimony, his voice quivering a few times when he described the alleged rape. The Monitor's policy is not to identify victims of sexual crimes because of the stigma that can be associated with them.
Robichaud has acknowledged that he acted inappropriately with the alleged victim, but he denies ever raping or attempting to rape him. Robichaud's lawyer, Peter Callaghan, described the relationship between Robichaud and the boy as improper, but not criminal.
"They developed a friendship and a close relationship," Callaghan told jurors yesterday. "But that relationship went too far. The embraces turned into kissing. That was wrong and it was inappropriate."
Callaghan disputed not only the truth of the man's rape allegations, but also the assertion that the alleged victim was a minor at the time. He focused on what he called several inconsistencies in the alleged victim's age. In earlier depositions, the alleged victim has said he was 14, 15 or 16 years old at the time of the alleged assault.
Callaghan seized on those earlier discrepancies in his opening statement, saying, "(the victim) has this memory and he's convinced himself that something happened, but he doesn't know when. . . . The bottom line in all of this is his memory is not reliable."
Throughout the day, Robichaud sat silently beside his attorney, occasionally taking notes. He did not visibly react when his alleged victim described how their relationship escalated from hugs, to kissing, to French kissing, to physical contact and eventually rape.
Callaghan is expected to cross-examine the alleged victim today. He will likely press the man on his recollection of his age at the time of the alleged assault.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.