Mass. High Court to Hear Former Priest's Appeal

By Monica Brady-Myerov
January 27, 2009

BOSTON - January 27, 2009 - One of the most notorious priests in the clergy sexual abuse crisis -- Paul Shanley -- could get a new trial. Massachusetts' highest court has agreed to hear an appeal to look at whether or not he was fairly represented.

Shanley is three years into a 12-15 year prison sentence for raping and molesting a boy from Newton.

WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports on his appeal before the Supreme Judicial Court.

Paul Shanley, now a defrocked priest, was convicted in 2005 of repeatedly raping and molesting a boy in the 1980s at St. Jean's parish in Newton.

When the verdict was read, other alleged victims of Shanley's in the court room gasped and cried. It was an emotional moment in a time of a new and heightened awareness of sexual abuse perpetrated by some priests. Shanley's new lawyer, Robert Shaw Jr., says the hysteria of the time played into his conviction.

ROBERT SHAW: The issue here now is a legal issue and one has to be able to look at this situation and analyze it without Paul Shanley without all the hysteria, bias and misinformation that was so widely spread in the public area. This is really about fairness.

The state says it was a thorough and fair trial and the verdict was just. But Shaw thinks there is cause for appeal and he will ask the Supreme Judicial Court to look at whether Shanley was fairly represented by his former lawyer Frank Mondano. Shaw says Mondano did not properly challenge the repressed memory evidence that helped convict Shanley.

MARC PERLIN: This is a pure legal issue, so to speak.

Marc Perlin is dean and law professor at Suffolk University Law School. He says the SJC will look narrowly at whether Shanley was fairly represented and won't rule on whether repressed memories are valid.

MARC PERLIN: The court is going to look this by looking at the transcript and decide under Massachusetts law and whether effective representation occurred or not. I think the court really won't focus on issues of media attention and public reaction.

In the 2005 trail, Shanley's lawyer, Mandano, called only one memory expert who said there is no scientific evidence to support the theory of repressed memory.

But on cross-examination, the expert admitted people can experience something traumatic and then forget it. Mondano's defense strategy asserted that the accuser made up his memories to gain attention and join in a personal injury lawsuit. The accuser settled a civil lawsuit against the Boston Archdiocese for half-a-million dollars before the criminal trail began.

The state argued in an earlier appeal hearing that courts and psychiatrists have recognized repressed memories in other cases and it says it will continue to present these strong arguments to the SJC. But Shanley's new lawyer, Robert Shaw Jr., says repressed memories are junk science.

SHAW: Repressed memory is a hypothesis phenomenon that is not accepted by scientific community, not reliable it is highly controversial and not admitted in court of law.

Shaw says there have been conflicting court opinions on repressed memories but he believes in recent cases the courts have mistrusted them. If Shanley were granted a new trial, it might not go the same way. After the 2005 conviction, then Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley admitted it was difficult.

MARTHA COAKLEY: This was a tough case, we know that there were several road blocks alongthe way from the time of the indictments in 2002 to tonight's verdict. They were many and they were obvious. This was an old case, the memories were old.

And the accuser had an emotional time recounting the abuse on the stand. He almost didn't come back to finish his testimony. No date has been set for the SJC to hear the appeal of Paul Shanley?s conviction.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.