Jury Selection Begins for Priest's Sex Assault Trial

By Michael McCord
New Hampshire Sunday News
June 28, 1998

DOVER Jury selection begins tomorrow in the trial of the Rev. Roger A. Fortier, the Farmington priest arrested eight months ago for allegedly sexually assaulting two teenage boys while serving at St. Peter's Parish.

But for St. Peter's parishioners, a new leaf already has been turned. A new pastor, the Rev. Eddy Bisson, started his duties last weekend.

While he is aware of the allegations that shook the community when Fortier was arrested last October, Bisson said so far none of the parishioners have mentioned the subject to him.

And Bisson, a priest for more than 30 years who has served parishes throughout the state, said he doesn't plan to talk about the coming trial in his homilies. "Some wounds take a long time to heal but we will work together and pray together. Unless people come to me directly, I don't plan to address the situation," Bisson said.

St. Peter's has about 1,000 members from 326 families and draws parishioners from Farmington, Milton, Middleton, Alton, New Durham and Rochester.

Fortier, 51, was indicted by a Strafford County grand jury in December on two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, a Class A felony, and nine counts of felonious sexual assault, a Class B felony. If convicted of all charges, Fortier could face up to 93 years in prison.

Fortier plead not guilty to all charges and is free on $ 20,000 cash bail. He is being represented by attorney Stephen Jeffco of Portsmouth.

Strafford County Attorney Lincoln Soldati will lead the prosecution team. He said last week that both of the alleged victims are expected to testify in the trial, which is expected to last about three days.

Fortier was arrested Oct. 28 for allegedly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy earlier that month at the parish rectory at 90 Central St.

A second alleged victim, now an adult, came forward soon thereafter. His allegations led to Fortier's arrest for incidents occurring from February 1994 to June 1995, when the alleged victim was between 14 and 16 years old.

Fortier had served at St. Peter's since February 1991.

According to court documents, the alleged assaults with the younger victim began last summer and continued into October until police were contacted by the boy's parents. The boy often spent Friday and Saturday evenings at the rectory with Fortier. Court documents also contend that the alleged incidents took place during numerous weekends in different parts of the rectory and sometimes were accompanied by X-rated videos with homosexual themes.

Earlier this month, Judge Bruce E. Mohl rejected a defense motion by Jeffco to suppress statements Fortier made while being interviewed by Farmington police officers when his residence was being searched. According to Jeffco, police continued to interview Fortier after he said he had no comment to the questions of investigators.

A May 18 trial date was continued after Jeffco wrote in a motion Fortier was "doing poorly, both mentally and physically" and spent time in St. Michael's Treatment Center in St. Louis, Mo.

Immediately following his October arrest, Fortier was put on administrative leave by the Catholic Diocese of Manchester. His last known address was St. Joseph's Parish in Nashua. Fortier, who is not allowed to perform any priestly functions until his criminal case is resolved, served at six other parishes in Manchester, Nashua, Plaistow and Rochester since being ordained in 1980.

Diocesan spokesman Matthew McSorley said if Fortier is convicted, the church's penalty "can go as far as dismissal from the priesthood" if it is requested by the Diocese to church authorities in Rome. Earlier this month, a Massachusetts priest was defrocked by the pope at the request of the Archdiocese of Boston following allegations of sexual abuse.

In Farmington, Bisson said all priests and parishioners are hurt by offenses like those Fortier is accused of committing.

"It is sad that individuals do these things, but they are not reflective of the whole," he said. "And I will do the best I can to help with the healing."


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