Slain Boy's Family Demanding Justice

By Mike Plaisance
The Republican
January 15, 2008

SPRINGFIELD - Saying they have suffered 36 years of torment, the parents of an altar boy murdered in 1972 yesterday called for a new investigation into the case.

"All we want is justice and the truth. The family has been hurt for a long time," said Carl E. Croteau, 76. His son, Daniel, was killed at age 13.

A lawyer for Carl and Bernice Croteau, John J. Stobierski, said they will ask Gov. Deval L. Patrick and state Attorney General Martha M. Coakley to launch an independent investigation into the murder in the wake of a judge's orders last week to release documents including a witness' allegation that she was pressured by the then- bishop and district attorney over information concerning a suspect.

Former priest Richard R. Lavigne was the prime suspect in the bludgeoning murder of Daniel. He was never charged in the killing and has denied any involvement.

Lavigne was the Croteau family's parish priest. Since then he has pleaded guilty to molesting two boys and has been sued by dozens of former parishioners who said he sexually abused them. Eventually, he was defrocked.

Lavigne's innocence was adamantly reasserted last night by his lawyer.

"Richard Lavigne did not murder Danny Croteau. The real evidence in this case conclusively establishes his innocence," said Patricia Garin, of Boston, one of Lavigne's lawyers, in an e-mailed statement.

Garin said such evidence includes Lavigne's passing a lie-detector test in 1972; tire tracks at the scene of Croteau's murder failing to match either Lavigne's or his family's cars; DNA tests showing blood found at the crime scene wasn't Lavigne's; police corroborating Lavigne's alibi that he was with his family the entire night of the murder; and a woman claiming to have witnessed the murder having questionable credibility.

The Croteaus made their comments during a press conference at the Hampden County Hall of Justice with their son, Carl E. Croteau Jr., and lawyers Stobierski and Danielle J. Barshak, of Greenfield.

The Croteaus said what they want most is justice in the case of Daniel's killing and that he is on their minds daily.

"I wear him every day," said Bernice Croteau, 71, her voice cracking as she held up the pendant she wears that bears Daniel's picture.

Carl Croteau Jr., 55, said the last conversation he had with his younger brother was about fishing, and he wonders what kind of man Daniel Croteau would have become. "Justice has been 36 years in the waiting. We've waited long enough," he said.

Carl Croteau gestured at Bernice Croteau and said their hope is the publicity and revelations in the newly released files will encourage witnesses to come forward and "put a pedophile priest where he belongs, behind bars. You cannot believe the torment this woman and I have gone through."

Daniel Croteau is believed to have been murdered on the banks of the Chicopee River in Chicopee. His body was discovered on April 15, 1972, floating face-down under the Robinson Bridge, where Interstate 291 spans the river.

Lavigne was living at the time in the rectory of St. Mary's Church in Springfield, about a mile from the murder scene.

Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini last week ordered Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett to release more investigative files in the murder. The files include a witness' allegations that she was pressured by the former bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, the Most Rev. Christopher J. Weldon, now deceased, and former District Attorney Matthew J. Ryan Jr., to keep quiet about the case.

"I think this summarizes what the Croteau family has felt from the very beginning, that there was collusion between the diocese and Matty Ryan," Carl Croteau said.

"Fact is stranger than fiction," Stobierski said. "Who could have even thought that they could be working together?"

Ryan, who left public office in 1990, has said suggestions he engaged in a cover-up or acted to protect the church are untrue. Weldon, according to the testimony of witnesses in the case which led to Agostini's ruling, destroyed documents that may have involved abuse allegations against parish priests.

Diocese spokesman Mark E. Dupont said that despite Agostini's ruling, the contentions contained in the files being released were investigated and found to be without merit.

"It should also be made clear that the diocese did not oppose Judge Agostini's order releasing any and all documents held by either the district attorney's office or the state police, and that all information known by the diocese concerning clergy abuse was years ago turned over to the district attorney by our legal counsel," Dupont said in an e-mailed statement.

"We continue to seek a fair and expeditious resolution to our claims from our insurance carriers so that we may settle with those remaining individuals who have filed claims of abuse. While we await this resolution the diocese continues to fund ongoing counseling to all clergy abuse victims that are known to us," Dupont said.

Agostini rejected arguments that the investigation into the murder is ongoing and that unsealing the materials may discourage new witnesses from coming forward.

The judge issued three orders in the context of an ongoing dispute between the diocese and its insurance carriers.

The Springfield diocese settled 46 abuse claims against priests for $7.7 million in 2004. The diocese then sued its insurance carriers, which refused to cover the claims because they contended the diocese was negligent in failing to supervise its clergy properly. About 40 more claims are pending.

The carriers recently pushed to open investigative files in more than a dozen clergy abuse cases to learn whether the diocese ignored abuse allegations.

The insurance companies' efforts to unseal files were opposed by Bennett and Capt. Peter J. Higgins, the chief state police investigator assigned to his office. Neither Bennett nor Higgins returned calls seeking comment yesterday.

Writing in an order about the Croteau case, Agostini made reference to a witness who allegedly saw the murder. "One of these eyewitnesses who gave a statement to police in 2004 told how in 1972, the then-bishop and the then-district attorney threatened her if she went public with what she had seen," Agostini wrote.

Stobierski said these were "shocking revelations" that merit a new and independent investigation of the killing as well as of the roles of Ryan and diocesan officials.

However, Garin wrote about the witness, "It is our understanding that she claims to have had these 'visions' as part of a post-hypnotic dream."

The Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests expressed admiration for the Croteaus' persistence in the case of their murdered son.

"We share the Croteaus' concern that some officials may have tried to silence a witness. Sadly, over the years, some law enforcement personnel have colluded with ... the corrupt church hierarchy to conceal clergy crimes," according to the e-mailed statement from the organization's outreach director Barbara Dorris, of St. Louis.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.