Vows to Appeal
Priest challenges sex abuse conviction
By Daniel Barrick
A lawyer for Gordon MacRae, a suspended Catholic priest convicted of child sexual assault over a decade ago, said he plans to appeal MacRae's conviction and prison sentence in state and federal courts later this year.
MacRae is serving a 33½- to 67-year sentence for raping a 15-year-old Keene boy. He pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting three other boys shortly after that conviction in 1994. MacRae's appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court was rejected two years later. Though his case has been dormant since then, a pair of columns in the Wall Street Journal last week argued that MacRae had been wrongly convicted, renewing interest in the case.
Ted Carey, an attorney from Tennessee who has been reviewing MacRae's case since last year, said his work for MacRae is independent from the Journal columns. He wouldn't discuss the specifics of his appeal but said he would dispute both the length of MacRae's sentence and the constitutionality of the trial that led to his conviction.
"In general, I think Father MacRae's sentence was too long for even what he was convicted of and/or pled guilty to," Carey said. "And I think there are some serious questions about the process that led to those convictions. . . . My overriding objective is to try to secure his release from prison. I don't think he belongs there any longer, if he ever did."
MacRae has long maintained his innocence of all child abuse charges and
has lobbied reporters, lawyers and church officials to help overturn his
conviction. He has not responded to recent requests from the Monitor for
an interview. Carey said he advised MacRae not to speak with reporters.
In 2003, he considered bringing a lawsuit in New Hampshire that would have asked a judge to throw out the landmark settlement between the state attorney general's office and the Diocese of Manchester over the church's handling of abusive priests. Carey objected to a piece of the settlement that required church officials to submit to regular state inspections of its policy for reporting abuse. He never filed that lawsuit, in part because of a lack of support by Catholic activists in New Hampshire.
MacRae's case attracted new interest last week after Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, took up his cause in that paper's editorial pages. Rabinowitz has written often about cases in which false accusations of sexual abuse led to imprisonment. She won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2001.
In her articles, Rabinowitz argued that MacRae's abusers fabricated their accusations in order to win cash settlements. She said several of his accusers went on to accuse other adults of abuse. And she charged the judge at MacRae's trial of withholding key information from the jury.
"Some of the material that Ms. Rabinowitz refers to will likely end up in the papers I file," Carey said. "And there will likely be other material she didn't refer to."
Carey said he decided to take on MacRae's case after MacRae wrote to him from prison over a year ago. He said he is not taking any payment for his work.
Law enforcement officials involved in MacRae's case have dismissed Rabinowitz's arguments as slanted and biased. Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker said last week that he knows of no efforts to reopen the case.
"I'd be somewhat surprised if something came of these stories,"Delker said. "There's no new information there that wasn't known at the time."
Church officials have also not shown any inclination to fight for MacRae's release. The Rev. Edward Arsenault, a spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester, said last week: "Gordon MacRae was convicted of criminal behavior, a conviction reached by a jury of his peers and presided over by a judge. The church has no role in the criminal or civil process. Nor do I believe the church has rushed to judgment in Gordon's case."
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