Defense Rests in Abuse Case

By Thomas J. Morgan
Providence Journal-Bulletin
July 17, 1999

An ex-social worker who was cleared of sexual-abuse allegations involving the plaintiff, a former ward of the state, tells jurors the effect such charges can have.


PROVIDENCE - A former state social worker took the witness stand in Superior Court yesterday to strongly deny that he had ever solicited sex from a former ward of the state who is suing the state government for failing to protect him from alleged sex abuse.

"My personal life has been sheer hell with that stigma over my head," said Gene Wigginton, a child protective investigator who worked for the state Department of Children, Youth and Families from 1984 to 1992.

"It has been a long 14 years," Wigginton snapped in a frequently acerbic exchange with Timothy J. Conlon, the lawyer representing Shawn M. Gill, 28, the former state ward.

He denounced Gill's accusations as false.

"I have not been arrested, I have not been sued, I have not been served with papers, I have not been subpoenaed" as a result of Gill's allegations, Wigginton told Conlon. "I am here for vindication for myself and my family, because this incident did not happen. I want some relief. I want some closure."

The dialogue between the lawyer and the witness grew so fiery that Judge Thomas H. Needham interrupted and told Conlon, "There's some hostility here, as I knew there would be. Let him finish his answer."

Later, in a bitter tone, Wigginton described what happens when an investigator is accused of sexual abuse.

"You are taken off the street," he said. "You are relieved of your credentials. You get menial chores to do. You get kept away from kids."

Wigginton told of how the department subsequently went about informing him that he had been cleared of the allegations: "They don't say, 'I'm sorry that we disrupted your life' Q just a (expletive) phone call to say you're cleared."

Needham felt obliged to tell the jury later, "There was a very angry witness here today." He urged the jurors not to form an opinion based on the show of emotion, and not to evaluate either Wigginton or Conlon critically for it, but rather to await his instructions on how to weigh evidence properly.

Wigginton is not a defendant in the case. He was called as a witness by the defense in an apparent bid to disparage Gill's credibility.

Gill is suing Robert McIntyre, a former priest, in his capacity as director of the Rhode Island Catholic Orphanage Asylum, doing business as St. Aloysius Home in Greenville; the orphanage itself; the state Department of Children, Youth and Families; the state of Rhode Island, and several unnamed persons listed as John Does and Jane Does.

The St. Aloysius Home is now closed. McIntyre and the corporation that operated it were sued because the state housed Gill there for a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He has alleged that McIntyre and staff members at St. Aloysius engaged in sex acts with him. Gill was also assigned to other foster homes while he was in the custody of the DCYF, and has claimed that the same pattern of abuse continued.

Gill, who has a criminal record, contends that the state's neglect while he was in DCYF custody twisted his psyche and caused behavioral problems that persist to this day.

According to testimony, Gill in his younger years was a cross-dresser who had fantasies about being Wonder Woman. Born to an incarcerated alcoholic prostitute who later committed suicide, he later was molested by his stepfather, who was convicted and jailed. Gill became a male prostitute as a teenager. Since then he has tangled with the police on a number of occasions.

Gill contends, among other things, that after the state gained custody of him, his mother was allowed to take him away for visits. But those "visits," he alleged, consisted of his mother dropping him off at the house of his stepfather, Arthur "Sunny" Fontaine, who then forced himself upon Gill sexually.

The defense rested yesterday.

Afterward, William A. Poore, representing McIntyre and the orphanage, and Linn F. Freedman, representing the state, asked Needham for a directed verdict of acquittal.

Needham said he would rule on the motion later.

The judge told the jurors that he would give the case to them on Monday morning and would explain the law to be followed in their deliberations.


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