6 Charges Dropped against Ex-Priest:
Lawyers Say Move to Strengthen Case

By Ralph Ranalli and Jonathan Saltzman
Boston Globe [Boston]
July 2, 2004

Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley dropped charges yesterday involving two alleged victims of defrocked priest Paul R. Shanley, including Gregory Ford, Shanley's first and most controversial accuser.

In a move that prosecutors and defense lawyers alike described as a tactical maneuver to strengthen the remaining case against Shanley, Coakley's office dismissed four charges of rape and two charges of indecent assault on a child involving the alleged molestation of Anthony Driscoll and Ford, whose continued involvement would probably have complicated the upcoming trial, given conflicting statements he has given about when he recovered memory of the alleged molestation.

"In determining our strategy with the best interests of the victims, the jury, and the case in mind, it seemed clear that trying a portion of the case, rather than all of the allegations altogether, would produce a similar verdict either way," Coakley said in a statement released by her office yesterday.

"We . . . believe that this will result in preserving the best interest of justice," she said.

All four of the alleged victims accused Shanley of raping them while they were altar boys and he was a priest assigned to St. Jean's Parish in Newton.

Ford has led a troubled life, marked by emotional turmoil, multiple suicide attempts, and psychiatric hospitalizations, and he had become a lightning rod for criticism of the case by Shanley's defenders.

In the two years since Shanley was indicted, the defense has accused Ford of fabricating his rape allegations and has used his psychiatric history and other records that surfaced during the Ford family's civil litigation against the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to attack his credibility and his contention that he had suppressed the memories of his abuse.

Ford's civil lawyers, meanwhile, have counterattacked with affidavits and other documents supporting Ford's story and portraying the 73-year-old Shanley as a longtime serial abuser.

Shanley's defense attorney, Frank Mondano, said he believed that Coakley's move supported the defense's contention that the case was fabricated to bring the civil suit and win damages.

The Ford family received an estimated $1.4 million settlement from the archdiocese earlier this year.

Nonetheless, Mondano said he believed that proving Shanley innocent at trial became harder with the charges dropped. "Half the case is gone, but the Commonwealth wasn't doing us any favors," he said.

Neither Ford nor Shanley appeared in court yesterday, but Ford's parents, Rodney and Paula Ford, said at a press conference yesterday that their son understands and supports the move.

"Greg is a little disappointed not to be able to help in the case, but he realizes that the most important thing is that Paul Shanley be convicted," Paula Ford said.

The Fords said their son is currently living with them and is undergoing outpatient therapy. While he was always ready to testify, they said, the fact that his civil and criminal cases are now over will help him heal.

The case against Shanley now consists of six rape charges and four charges of indecent assault and is expected to rely mostly on the testimony of Paul Busa and another alleged victim who has been identified only as John Doe.

Local criminal defense lawyers, meanwhile, said the district attorney's office was smart to drop Ford and Driscoll from the case if prosecutors had questions about their credibility.

"A prosecutor with several strong witnesses and several weak witnesses can undermine the entire case by calling every potential witness," said J.W. Carney Jr., a defense lawyer and former Middlesex County prosecutor.

Stephen Hrones, another prominent criminal defense lawyer, said that based on news accounts he had read, Ford would have been vulnerable on cross-examination because he had allegedly made contradictory and confused statements in civil proceedings.

"Defense counsel could have said, `That's how weak the overall case is,' " Hrones said. "He's the weakest link."