Lawyer for family of Danny Croteau says plans to charge deceased ex-priest Richard Lavgine with murder ‘raise more questions’

The Republican - MassLive [Springfield MA]

May 25, 2021

By Anne-Gerard Flynn

Greenfield attorney John J. Stobierski had words of praise for Hampden Country District Attorney Anthony Gulluni with the announcement Monday that Gulluni planned to charge former Springfield priest Richard Lavigne with the 1972 murder of altar boy Daniel “Danny” Croteau.

However, Stobierski, who represented the now-deceased parents of Croteau, other of their family members as well as dozens of victims who came forward with sexual allegations against Lavigne, called the fact it took decades to bring forth such a charge “a travesty.”

Lavigne, who pleaded guilty to molesting two boys in 1992 and was removed from the ministry in 2004 after the settlement of scores of civil suits, died May 21, before he could be charged with the Croteau murder.

Gulluni on Monday declared the case, which has been the subject of books and on-and-off investigations, closed.

“It is a travesty that it has taken 50 years to bring closure and unfortunately it is too late for justice,” said Stobierski, who was critical of both earlier district attorneys as well as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. “The fact that this is all being revealed now I think speaks to the fact that there are significant reasons that it has taken so long.”

Stobierski added that “there needs to be an exploration as to why this man could not have been brought to justice.”

“District Attorney Anthony Gulluni deserves a lot of credit, but why did not prior district attorneys employ the same methods?” Stobierski said. “Why weren’t the forensic experts that he retained retained earlier? Why were these documents withheld? He referenced emails that I don’t believe the diocese provided to me in court-ordered discovery.”

Gulluni’s decision to charge Lavigne was based on months of investigation as well as interviews with the ailing Lavigne, who admitted to taking Croteau to the area of the Chicopee River, pushing him and then seeing his body floating in the river, without ever telling the police.

Stobierski, who said his firm cooperated with Gulluni’s investigation, said the resultant charge and supportive evidence “answers some questions, but it raises many more.”

“One of the things the district attorney should do is release the entire investigatory file so that the public can see the extent of what happen,” Stobierski said.

“I motioned to unimpound the impounded murder investigation of Danny Croteau back in 2004,” Stobierski said. “It went up to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and The Republican joined me in it, and we got it released to that point in time. What has happened since then? … What else has been discovered? Why has this case been dormant for 17 years?”

Referring to the diocese, which has long been criticized for a lack of transparency and accountability in its handling of sexual abuse allegations and even in the paying out of millions of dollars in civil suits, Stobierksi said “there is something more rotten in Denmark than just wayward priests molesting children.”

“We have credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors involving two bishops in power for nearly 30 years — Bishop Christopher Weldon for 20 years and later Bishop Thomas Dupre, whom I battled with legally,” Stobierski said.

“We know there were pedophile abuse parties with children among priests. There were houses in Springfield that were safe houses where priests would take their victims. If Lavigne knew that either Weldon or Dupre were part of that cabal it is really good blackmail material.”

Stobierski said he knows of such allegations from the litigation he has handled. He added “there are significant, unanswered questions about the role of this diocese in how it managed the allegations against priests.”

“There has never been a significant deep investigation as to why all this happened here,” Stobierski said.

“When you have two bishops, both credibly accused of child molestation, a murderer and scores of children molested, there is something wrong. Judge Peter Velis’ report on Weldon has touched on some areas of it, but why has all this happened here? I do not think there is any diocese in the country that has as sordid a record as this one.”

Gulluni during his announcement released a letter Lavigne claimed was sent to him anonymously by the true killer. The prosecutors said it was analyzed by a linguist who determined it was likely written by Lavigne. Stobierski questioned how long the diocese had the letter and why it was not analyzed previously.

“Gulluni got that letter recently, but that information was out there since 2004 and the Bishop Dupre grand jury investigation,” Stobierski said. “The diocese did not give it to authorities until subpoenaed by that grand jury. How long did the diocese keep it in their files? That letter seems to be a bit of a linchpin and they withheld it for years.”

Stobierski said he was “livid” when he heard the recording played during the announcement of Lavigne telling of taking Croteau to the Chicopee River, pushing the boy and then putting what happened out of his mind.

“I was livid that it has taken so long to get him to the point where Lavigne would talk like this,” Stobierski said. “So many people suffered for so many years. What the Croteaus went through as well as every one of his victims.”

Stobierski added, “The criminal case against Richard Lavigne is closed.”

“Why he was allowed to molest scores of children after this? There is blood on someone’s hands on that,” Stobierski said. “This happened in 1972. He was not stopped until 1991 when the diocese removed him from ministry. Tons of kids got molested. When you get away with murder that gives you an idea of how far you can go.”

“In terms of what the diocese did and how they allowed this to happen to the children in this region, this raises more questions than answers,” Stobierski said.

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who has represented clients with sexual abuse allegations against Lavigne, echoed Stobierski’s comments in a statement.

“Sexual abuse survivors from around the country have contacted me today to express sympathy for the Croteau family,” Garabedian said. “Many survivors feel cheated because former Catholic priest Richard R. Lavigne will not spend the rest of his life in jail. The District Attorney’s office should investigate the extent to which the Diocese of Springfield helped former Catholic priest Richard R. Lavigne cover up the murder of Danny Croteau.”