Alleged Victim's Mother Says She Trusted Priest
Closing Arguments to Be Delivered Monday
By AnneMarie Timmins
Monitor [Concord NH]
April 18, 2003
Laconia - Attorneys called the last of their witnesses against the Rev. George Robichaud yesterday. Among them was the alleged victim's mother, who told jurors she encouraged her son's friendship with Robichaud because Robichaud was a priest.
"The connection I had with priests in my life was fine," said the mother, who let her son travel to Italy with the priest when the boy was 14. "(Robichaud) was trusted. I figured . . . he was a good influence on (my son). That's the way I was brought up, and I thought it was a nice thing."
Robichaud is on trial in Belknap County Superior Court for two sexual assault charges, rape and attempted rape. Prosecutors allege that Robichaud, 59, took advantage of his friendship with the alleged victim by gaining his trust and respect and then sexually assaulting him in 1985, when the boy was 15. The man is now a 33-year-old state trooper.
Jurors are not allowed to be told that Robichaud faces criminal charges in a separate case involving a Concord man who has accused Robichaud of sexually assaulting him as many as 30 times.
Robichaud is the first priest to be tried on sexual assault charges since the clergy abuse scandal broke in New Hampshire last year. Jurors hearing this case, however, have not seen the raw emotion that has marked the crisis elsewhere.
There has been no testimony about the particular power that abusive priests use to groom and manipulate their victims. The jurors have not seen photographs of the alleged victim as a child, so they know him only as an adult who has said he's forgiven Robichaud.
Nor have jurors seen many tears or heard about the heartache that's been at the heart of civil lawsuits against accused priests and the Diocese of Manchester. The witnesses, including the alleged victim and his mother, have spoken plainly and without emotion in the courtroom.
Defense attorney Peter Callaghan wrapped up his evidence without calling Robichaud to testify. Callaghan's final witness was a nun who contradicted the prosecution's assertion that she saw Robichaud take the alleged victim into his bedroom at the rectory.
"I never saw anything to make me suspicious," said Sister Lucie Ducas of Somersworth, a longtime friend of Robichaud's.
Jurors are expected to get the case Monday when court resumes and the lawyers deliver their closing arguments. Deliberations will focus largely on the age of the alleged victim at the time he says he was sexually assaulted by Robichaud.
The man said this week that he is "95 percent" certain he was 15, but there is evidence that he has previously put his age at 16. He acknowledged, for example, that he told a state police interviewer in 1996 that he was "about 16" when he was assaulted. The matter of a year is significant because in 1985, sexual assault laws considered 16 the age of consent.
"It doesn't matter what you think about what might have happened," Callaghan told jurors Tuesday. "If (the alleged victim) was 16 years old, there was no crime."
Yesterday, the alleged victim's mother told jurors she remembered being thankful that Robichaud had taken an interest in her teenage son because his own father wasn't involved with the family. She and her husband also didn't have the money to treat their son to the lobster dinners and weekend getaways Robichaud did.
In 1984, when the alleged victim was 14, Robichaud paid the boy's way to Italy. His mother let him miss a week of school to go.
"(My son) was so excited," the mother said. "At that point we wouldn't have thought in our wildest dreams he'd be going or able to go."
Callaghan used his first witness yesterday to emphasize the discrepancy over the alleged victim's age. He called a former state police sergeant who had talked with the alleged victim about his abuse in 1996, when the alleged victim applied for a job with the state police.
Sgt. Clayton Young, now retired, asked the alleged victim about the assault after a polygraph test indicated that he had not been forthcoming during his interview. In the report Young wrote at the time, he wrote that the alleged victim was 16 when he was assaulted.
On cross-examination, however, Young backed away from that somewhat after prosecutors pointed out that he had improperly recorded the alleged victim's age elsewhere in the report. In that instance, Young had written that the alleged victim became active in the Catholic Church at age 16, when in fact the alleged victim had begun religious education in first grade.
This week jurors have heard several witnesses testify about Robichaud's tendency to favor casual clothes over his priest's garb. But Robichaud has come to court every day dressed in his clerical collar, which is a violation of the administrative leave he's been on since his April 2002 arrest.
Pat McGee, spokesman for the Diocese of Manchester, said yesterday that diocesan officials have tried this week to hold Robichaud to his obligations.
"We sent a clear message to his attorney as to what the restrictions are," McGee said. "We've been quite clear on that. When this (criminal investigation) is over, we will take up our own investigation, and (Robichaud's) adherence to the restrictions of his leave will be part of that."
Callaghan has declined to comment on Robichaud's attire.
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