Newsweek [New York NY]
May 25, 2021
By James Crump
A defrocked Roman Catholic priest has died on the same day he was due to be formally charged with the 1972 murder of a 13-year-old boy in Chicopee, Massachusetts.
On Monday, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced that he had called state troopers to his office on Friday, May 21, to seek a warrant to arrest 80-year-old Richard Lavigne for the murder of 13-year-old Danny Croteau, but confirmed that the former priest died just a few hours later.
“Based on the accumulation of evidence, and in particular those admissions, as a prosecutor I believe that I was fulfilling my ethical duties by moving toward the charge of murder against Richard Lavigne…and I believe we could prove it,” Gulluni said.
According to a death record obtained by The Boston Globe, Lavigne’s death was listed as “acute hypoxic respiratory failure,” with the underlying cause of “COVID-19 pneumonia.”
“Regrettably, due to Lavigne’s death, there will be no prosecution or trial,” Gulluni said at the press conference on Monday.
“But due to the credible and significant evidence that has been assembled in the last year that incriminates Richard Lavigne, I am announcing today that the investigation into the murder of Danny Croteau is now officially closed.
“While formal justice might not have befallen Richard Lavigne here on this earth, we hope to now provide answers and some measure of closure to Danny’s family and to a generation in western Massachusetts and beyond who mourned and wondered for too long.”
Gulluni said that Lavigne, while residing in a medical facility, spoke to investigators from his office for around 11 hours in the week before his death. The conversations were recorded with his permission.
The district attorney revealed that although Lavigne did not admit to killing the 13-year-old, he did say that he brought him to the riverbank where his body was later discovered on April 15, 1972.
Lavigne also admitted to assaulting Danny and returning to the scene later in the day to see him floating face down in the water, saying that he recognized him “by the way he was dressed.”
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Gulluni played some of the recordings on Monday, with Lavigne heard telling investigators that he gave the child a “good shove” and was “heartbroken when I saw his body.”
Lavigne, who was the Croteau family’s long-term priest, was the only named suspect in the case, but was never charged as there was not enough evidence to do so.
The priest, who was removed from active ministry in 1991 when he was charged with sexually abusing children, was convicted of those claims in 1992, before being defrocked by the Vatican in 2003. He was listed as a Level 3 sex offender by the time of his death, according to the Globe.
Following the briefing on Monday, Springfield Bishop William Byrne called Lavigne’s case “another reminder of the Church’s past failures,” while Danny’s other brother, Joe Croteau, said that he believes “there’s a higher power” and that the former priest “will face that higher power now.”
Newsweek has contacted the Hampden District Attorney’s Office for comment.