Jury Is Deadlocked in Clergy Sex Abuse Case

By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press

August 27, 2008

A jury deadlocked over how to reach a verdict in a clergy sex abuse trial will enter a third day of deliberations this morning in Chittenden Superior Court in Burlington.

"They're being conscientious. I appreciate the effort they're making," attorney Jerome O'Neill said as he prepared to leave the courthouse Tuesday evening.

O'Neill represents a former altar boy who alleges he was molested by the Rev. Edward Paquette between 20 and 50 times at Christ the King Church in Burlington in the late 1970s. The Burlington Free Press does not identify the alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent.

Tom McCormick, a lawyer for the state's Roman Catholic diocese, declined comment on the length of the jury's deliberations.

The diocese, which is accused of assigning Paquette to the Burlington parish knowing he had molested boys in three states, including Vermont, is the sole defendant in the case.

The jury began deliberations Monday afternoon and has spent 13 hours trying to reach a verdict.

Tuesday afternoon, the jury sent Judge Matthew Katz a note, asking for his "wisdom" on how to break a deadlock on how much in compensatory damages to award the former altar boy, now 40 and a resident of Waitsfield.

Katz responded to the note by calling the jury into the courtroom and telling them he could not help them resolve their problem because the law does not allow him to coach them on what to do.

"The question is 'can I help you' and the unfortunate answer is no," Katz told them. "I can't give you a range of numbers. I can't tell you want is reasonable or unreasonable."

Katz urged the jury not to give up on reaching a verdict. He said he admired the hours they had devoted to reviewing the facts in the case and what he surmised was their "collegial" mood in approaching their work.

"I want you to appreciate all the effort that's gone into trying this case by the parties, the plaintiff and the defense," Katz said. "If we have to try this case over, the next jury that listens to the case is not going to do a better job and will not be more qualified to do the job than you folks."

The jury then left the courtroom to resume deliberations but adjourned for the evening an hour later. Jurors are expected to reconvene at 9:30 a.m. today.

The diocese does not dispute the abuse allegations but contends it relied on the advice of church psychologists that Paquette was cured of his sexual deviancy when it decided to hire him. It claims the Waitsfield man waited too long to file his lawsuit and did too little to address the impact Paquette's abuse had on his life.

In May, a jury in a similar case involving claims Paquette molested another former Burlington altar boy in the 1970s reached a verdict after five hours and awarded the victim $8.7 million in damages.

An appeal of that verdict is pending before the Vermont Supreme Court.

Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or


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