DNA Does Not Link Lavigne to Scene of Boy's '72 Slaying

By Bill Zajac
The Republican
July 29, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - New DNA tests on evidence in the 1972 unsolved murder of Daniel Croteau have not yielded any results that would link the only suspect to the crime, according to the region's top law enforcement official.

A day after the state's top court ordered the release of all impounded Croteau murder files, Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett said yesterday DNA tests in the last 16 months have not linked defrocked priest Richard R. Lavigne with the murder scene of Croteau, a 13-year-old altar boy from Springfield.

However, Bennett refused comment when asked what evidence was submitted for tests, whether further testing would be done and if there are any new leads in the investigation.

Five members of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously decided to uphold an October 2003 ruling by Hampden Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis to terminate a 1996 impoundment order that has kept portions of the murder files off limits to public inspection. The Republican and Greenfield lawyer John Stobierski, who represents clergy sexual abuse plaintiffs, had appealed to the high court after Bennett and Lavigne successfully appealed the Velis ruling to the state's Appeals Court.

In the mid-1990s, after Bennett won a long legal battle to obtain a sample of Lavigne's blood, DNA testing did not link Lavigne to the murder scene.

The tests were done on a drinking straw and a piece of rope, both of which were found on the banks of the Chicopee River where Croteau's body was found floating face down.

In March 2003, Bennett revealed that evidence was being resubmitted for DNA examination using more sophisticated testing methods.

"Tests can yield more results with less biology," he said at the time.

The release Tuesday of a state Department of Public Safety laboratory report shows blood was found on many crime scene items besides the rope and straw.

The report shows that all of Croteau's clothing was examined. The boy was wearing a beige suede jacket, blue corduroy pants, wide brown belt, white T-shirt, white jockey shorts, blue necktie with OLSH (Our Lady of Sacred Heart) monogram, black socks with white cuffs and tan suede ankle boots.

Bennett said yesterday that Croteau was wearing socks and shoes when he was found. The Republican had previously reported that his body was barefoot when found.

Also, an 8-inch by 6,5-inch piece of material was missing from Croteau's jacket. Other tears were detected, according to the report.

Hours after the court decision, Bennett released to The Republican the autopsy, other lab test results and a city of Chicopee termination notice of 17-year-old Lavigne from his job as an assistant recreation leader in the summer of 1958. The newspaper had reported in 1991 that Lavigne was terminated from the Chicopee job because of a complaint he molested a boy.

Lavigne, a priest working in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, was defrocked in November. The Chicopee resident is now on the state's list of sexual offenders.

The autopsy showed Croteau had a blood alcohol level of .18 percent at the time of his death - twice the current legal limit for driving. Some of the people who have accused Lavigne of molesting them as minors said he gave them alcohol before assaulting them. The autopsy did not find evidence of trauma or bodily fluids that could indicate Croteau was sexually assaulted.

Many of the alleged Lavigne victims, who number more than 30, have said the former priest molested them but the acts did not include sexual intercourse.

Additional files are expected to be released through the Hampden County Clerk of Courts office next week.

The names of witnesses and their addresses will be removed before their statements are released.

State and local police reports are also expected to be released.

The Republican, and its predecessor, the Union-News, have won the release of hundreds of pages of documents related to the case in the past based on court challenges dating back a decade.


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