Closing Statements Set in Clergy-Abuse Trial

By Conor Berry
The Post-Star
February 9, 2011

Courtesy of NewsChannel 13 Former priest Rev. Gary Mercure sits in Berkshire Superior Court during the first day of testimony in his criminal trial in Pittsfield, Mass. on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011.

Editor's note: Over the course of coverage of the Mercure trial, some stories may contain graphic sexual content.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- When jurors begin deliberating the fate of Gary Mercure on Wednesday, they'll have to determine if the Catholic priest accused of raping two altar boys in the Berkshires in the 1980s is guilty as charged, or if his accusers were motivated by self-gain or some sort of retaliatory conspiracy.

Although the defense has yet to connect all the dots, attorney Michael Jennings' line of questioning - and the inferences drawn from his interrogation of witnesses - has suggested a less-than-pure scheme to bring down the New York priest, who was formally removed from ministry in 2008.

Mercure was pastor at two Catholic churches in Queensbury and Glens Falls in the 1980s and 1990s.

The defense has focused on the lack of physical or scientific evidence tying Mercure to alleged crimes dating back to the 1980s, which means the jury ultimately must gauge the validity and veracity of testimony offered in the trial.

Mercure's team also has concentrated on the chain of events leading up to the revelation of the decades-old allegations, specifically whether the former altar boys were coached or cajoled by other alleged victims or members of a clergy-abuse support group to make claims against the priest.

The prosecution, meanwhile, has methodically questioned several former altar boys, all of whom allege Mercure abused them in New York and two of whom claim that abuse spilled over into Berkshire County.

Mercure is accused of raping the pair in separate incidents in the Great Barrington area and New Ashford in 1986 and 1989, respectively.

Prosecutors say the earlier incident happened in a parking lot to a popular hiking trail, while the latter happened in a parking lot at the former Brodie Ski Area.

Prosecutors have queried the former altar boys, all from New York and now in their 30s, about their histories with Mercure at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in Queensbury. That's were each alleged victim first came in contact with Mercure, the church's former associate pastor, and where the abuse reportedly began.

The prosecution's repeated questioning of the former altar boys established an apparent pattern of cumulative or corroborating evidence, including:

u They were raised in devoutly Catholic households by families that pushed or expected them to become altar boys.

u Mercure showered them with gifts, money and free restaurant meals, and took them on out-of-town trips to Vermont and Massachusetts, including to the Berkshires.

u Mercure gave them wine at the Queensbury church or bought them alcohol when they became teenagers.

u Mercure ingratiated himself into their families, often sharing meals or celebrating special events with them.

u Mercure began by making inappropriate sexual comments to the boys, then graduated to touching and full-fledged sexual activity.

One alleged victim testified that Mercure accompanied his family on a driving vacation to South Carolina, raping the former altar boy during overnight motel stays along the way.

Another alleged victim claimed the priest told him to close his eyes and pray before sexually abusing the boy, while another would hide his bloody underwear in a wall after the priest allegedly assaulted him.

Two brothers, both of whom served as altar boys with Mercure, claimed the priest gave them inappropriate birthday cards with suggestive remarks and images of naked men.

Jurors are expected to listen to another hour of testimony on Wednesday before closing arguments in the case. After that, the case will be handed over to the jury for deliberations, according to Berkshire Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini.

The case is being prosecuted by Berkshire First Assistant District Attorney Paul J. Caccaviello and Assistant District Attorney Marianne Shelvey, the latter of whom has focused on the DNA portion of the case. Jennings is being assisted by defense attorney Robert DeLong.

In an agreement with The Berkshire Eagle of Pittsfield, Mass., The Post-Star is publishing the Eagle's daily reports on the Mercure trial.

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