High Court Orders Some Documents from Altar Boy's Murder Made Public

By Trudy Tynan
Associated Press
July 27, 2004

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) The state's highest court on Tuesday lifted an order keeping the investigative files closed in the unsolved 1972 murder of a 13-year-old altar boy.

The Supreme Judicial Court said a lower court judge was right to order the records made public from a state police investigation into the death of Danny Croteau. Defrocked pedophile priest Richard Lavigne was the only publicly identified suspect in the boy's slaying, but he was never charged.

"The public's right of access to judicial records, including transcripts, evidence, memoranda, and court orders, may be restricted, but only on a showing of good cause," the justices wrote in their decision. "Good cause sufficient to justify further impoundment no longer exists."

Croteau's bludgeoned body was found on the banks of the Chicopee River on April 15, 1972. But Lavigne did not emerge as a suspect until the 1990s, after he pleaded guilty to molesting two other children.

Documents in the case were impounded in 1996 after Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett closed the case when blood tests failed to conclusively link Lavigne to the crime. The records include a 1993 search warrant authorizing taking a sample of Lavigne's blood to test against blood found along the river bank where Croteau's body was found.

The case was reopened last year when Bennett said he was pursuing more sophisticated DNA testing. Because the case is active, he said information about it should remain under wraps.

Bennett said Tuesday that he was still reading the ruling and had no immediate comment. It was not immediately clear when the documents would be unsealed.

The Republican newspaper of Springfield and an attorney for more than 20 people claiming they were abused by Lavigne argued that the files should be made public.

"We are delighted that the justices are unsealing documents in this tragic unsolved case," said Managing Editor Marie Grady. "We have been fighting in the courts for release of this information for almost a decade beginning with the lower courts."

Lavigne's lawyer, Max Stern, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

John Stobierski, the lawyer for Lavigne's alleged victims, also did not immediately return a call.

In October, Hampden Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis lifted the impoundment order on some of the murder investigation documents.

The records remained sealed while the case was appealed. The SJC upheld the ruling Tuesday, saying three decades had passed and there was no good reason to keep the records sealed.


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