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  Jury Picked for Priest Retrial: Defense Seeks Dismissal of Charges

By Geoff Cunningham Jr. gcunningham@citizen.com
Foster's Daily Democrat [Laconia NH]
Downloaded July 9, 2003

LACONIA — The attorney for a Catholic priest charged with sexual assault against a minor has asked the court to dismiss the charges against his client saying that — because the alleged incident took place 18-plus years ago — it is impossible for a jury to render an informed verdict in the case.

The motion was heard in Belknap County Superior Court Monday, the same day as the jury was selected for the Rev. George Robichaud's second trial on the same charge. His first trial in April ended in a mistrial.

"There is no way we can have a fair trial," Robichaud's attorney, Peter Callaghan, told the Justice Harold Perkins. The judge did not immediately rule on the dismissal motion, but he tentatively scheduled the trial to begin Wednesday.

Callaghan argued that too much evidence has been damaged or lost to allow him to properly refute claims made against the accused Catholic priest. He said that the prosecution's case relies too heavily on the victim's testimony that has repeatedly changed even up to the "eve" of the trial.

Robichaud, 59, of Sanbornton, a former pastor of churches in Alton and Wolfeboro, is charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault and attempted aggravated felonious sexual assault.

His accuser, who is alleged to have been 15-years old at the time, was an altar boy at St. Anthony Church in Swanzey, where Robichaud was then pastor. The assaults are alleged to have occurred at the priest's cottage on Black Brook Road in Sanbornton.

Robichaud's case was initially tried in late April, but a 12-member jury was unable to come to a verdict in the case despite 13-hours of deliberation and the judge declared a mistrial.

Jurors in that trial said that— while there seemed to be consensus that the acts occurred— they could not find him guilty due to perceived inconsistencies in the victim's recollection of his age when the alleged incident took place.

At that time the defense argued that his testimony showed his remembrance of his age fluctuated between 14, 15 and even 16 years of age. Sixteen is the age of consent.

On Monday the priest — who has been placed on administrative leave by the Diocese of Manchester — sat passively in court as the second round of proceedings took shape. He was dressed in a black suit, but was not wearing a clerical collar as he had during his first trial.

The court took more than an hour to pick a new 15-member panel from a jury pool of approximately 50 individuals.

In presiding over the jury selection process, Judge Perkins instructed potential jurors to step forward if they had any reservation about whether they could render a fair judgment in such a high profile and controversial case.

Nearly everyone whose name was drawn asked to approach the judge.

More than one could be seen crying as they conferred with the judge and attorneys at the bench. Several were excused from serving.

In the end the judge qualified a panel made up of six men and nine women.

Robichaud's retrial is slated to begin on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

However, attorneys on both sides of the issue used Monday to tackle a variety of motions that have been entered.

Most come from the defense, which is asking the court to restrict what type and how certain evidence can be presented to the jury.

The defense has asked to court to make any evidence relating to alcohol inadmissible as they feel it is an attack on Robichaud's character rather than a valid part of the state's case.

Callaghan described the state's use of alcohol in the first trial as "excessive" saying they repeatedly kept "hitting us over the head with it."

The defense attorney said on Monday that such attacks on Robichaud's character distract jurors to their obligation of applying the facts in the case to the law.

Callaghan repeatedly objected to County Attorney Lauren Noether's language in her closing argument during the last trial. He said that the first statement in the closing in which she described Robichaud as "guilty as sin" was inappropriate.

Robichaud's lawyer said that the jury's role is not to judge his morals, but rather whether he broke the law.

Noether objected to the requested restrictions on Monday saying all of the evidence and testimony in the case were highly relevant in illustrating a relationship between the boy and priest that "evolved" and "crossed numerous boundaries" to result in the alleged illegal act.

The defense was also requesting a continuance in the case due, in part, to the prosecution's decision to call, at least, two new witnesses.

That request was denied by the judge, who instead allowed for the trial to begin on Wednesday so they could acquire additional information.

Judge Perkins took the requested motions and objections into advisement.

Robichaud also faces two other Class A felony sexual assault charges relating to his alleged molestation of a second 15-year-old altar boy. That case is set to go to trial this coming fall.

Geoffrey Cunningham Jr. can be reached by calling 524-3800 ext. 5931 or by e-mail at gcunningham@citizen.com

 
 

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