|Jurors hear priest's
Defense focuses on age of alleged victim
By Annmarie Timmins
April 16, 2003
LACONIA - Jurors listened to the secretly recorded apology yesterday that the Rev. George Robichaud gave last year to the man who has accused him of rape. Robichaud's lawyer, however, asked jurors to pay most attention to what they didn't hear.
Never did the alleged victim or Robichaud speak directly of rape and attempted rape. Instead, the alleged victim, who was recording the conversation for the police with a hidden body wire, confronted Robichaud generally about "things that went on" and Robichaud "cross(ing) the line."
"You never said, 'George, I am accusing you of anal penetration,' " defense attorney Peter Callaghan told the alleged victim during cross-examination. "You never gave him the charge you wanted him to admit to. You know that (taped apology) isn't an admission to anal penetration, is it?"
Belknap County Attorney Lauren Noether successfully objected to the final question before the alleged victim could answer.
Robichaud is on trial in Belknap County Superior Court on charges he raped and attempted to rape the alleged victim in the mid-1980s, when the man was a 15-year-old altar boy at Robichaud's parish in Swanzey. Robichaud is the first priest accused of sexual molestation to go to trial since the clergy sex abuse scandal broke in New Hampshire last year.
When the trooper confronted Robichaud at his parish in Wolfeboro in April 2002 wearing a body wire, he told the priest he wanted an apology for "things" that went on. "I'm not looking for any kind of revenge or retribution or retaliation," the man told Robichaud. "Please don't insult my intelligence by saying you don't remember because I know you do."
Robichaud obliged with the apology.
"I didn't mean to do anything to hurt you. I played affectionately, um, I am sorry," he said. "Let me say this. I went through a therapeutic program, dealt with a lot of issue (sic), okay. And um, I'm sorry."
The alleged victim, who is now a 33-year-old state trooper, spent the better part of the last two days on the witness stand recounting his close relationship with Robichaud, who gave the alleged victim attention his own alcoholic father did not.
The alleged victim also faced intense questioning from Callaghan about why in the last week he has revised earlier statements about his age at the time of the alleged abuse and now says he's confident that he was 15 and not 16.
The difference of a year will be significant for jurors because sexual assault laws in place at the time of the alleged incident considered a 16-year-old person old enough to consent to sex. Callaghan has told jurors that regardless of their feelings about the alleged abuse, if the alleged victim was 16 at the time and didn't resist, it wasn't a crime.
Callaghan accused the alleged victim of reworking his earlier statements and recollection of events with prosecutors just before the trial.
Robichaud is charged for only one alleged incident, but the man has told investigators that Robichaud fondled and touched him several times in the three to four years they were close. Callaghan asked the alleged victim yesterday why he continued to spend time with Robichaud, especially after the alleged rape.
"I can't tell you why I didn't stop (visiting him)," the man said. "Maybe it was the friendship we had. The closeness we shared."
Callaghan also questioned why the alleged victim didn't forcefully resist Robichaud when the priest allegedly pulled down his sweatpants and underwear and assaulted him from behind. The man has said that he tightened himself up after the first assault to prevent Robichaud from entering him again.
"I was scared and I figured the best way was to avoid the whole situation," the man said, explaining that he pretended to be asleep. "I figured it would be over in a couple of minutes. I figured if I had my eyes closed and I didn't have to look, I could really just concentrate on not being there."
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