Jury out on Church Trial, Returns Today

By Kevin O'Connor
Times Argus

August 25, 2008

BURLINGTON A jury failed to reach a verdict Monday night on a call to fine Vermont's Catholic Church up to a record $14.3 million in a priest misconduct trial under way in Chittenden Superior Court.

Lawyers for 40-year-old Burlington native Thomas Murray, in closing arguments earlier in the day, said the state's largest religious denomination must pay for its negligent hiring and supervision of former priest Edward Paquette, who allegedly sexually abused the plaintiff when he was a 9-year-old altar boy.

Attorney John Evers said his client, now of Waitsfield, went on to have nightmares, avoid religion and turn to alcohol and drugs and, more recently, suffer from anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and problems with physical intimacy, leading to a divorce with the mother of his child. The plaintiff's lawyer, suggesting the figure of $10,000 per incident of abuse or per year of suffering plus 30 years of interest, proposed compensatory damages of $886,000 to $2.3 million and additional punitive damages of $6 million to $12 million.

"Those are big numbers," Evers said. "They should be because of what happened."

A five-man, seven-woman jury, having heard testimony in the civil case for almost eight days, began deliberations Monday at 3:15 p.m. But with no sign of a verdict almost six hours later, the panel went home for the night and is scheduled to return to court this morning.

The statewide Roman Catholic Diocese, hit with a record $8.7 million verdict in a similar case in May, fears another big verdict regarding Paquette. In both lawsuits, church counsel haven't disputed the abuse allegations but said the diocese wasn't liable because it was following since-debunked advice of psychiatrists who, at one point, hoped the priest could be cured through 11 sessions of electric shock therapy.

Murray's lawsuit says Paquette covered the fourth-grader's mouth and grasped his genitals 20 to 50 times at Burlington's Christ the King Church in 1977 and 1978.

Evers reviewed church records Monday that showed the diocese placed Paquette at Rutland's Christ the King Church in 1972, Montpelier's St. Augustine's Church in 1974 and Burlington's Christ the King Church in 1976 without telling anyone it knew the priest had molested boys in Massachusetts and Indiana.

"It's criminal behavior," said the lawyer, displaying a photo of his client as a blond-haired boy.

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