As a Boston criminal defense attorney, I don’t seem to be able to read a news story and simply let it be. Particularly when it involves our criminal justice system and its participants.
After days of being unable to post the blog (again), I went looking for a story about which to write. At first, I thought I was thrown back to a few years ago when the clergy were in Justice’s sites, with now-adult-previous-child-complainants remembering sexual assaults of days gone by. This story, however, was a bit different.
The item involved the Reverend Emile B. (hereinafter, “Father Defendant”). He is a Walpole priest who was arrested by the State Police earlier this week on charges of indecent assault and battery.
The complainant, a 21-year-old-man, alleges that the assault occurred while he was an adult…in fact, this very week.
The accusation is that Father Defendant , co-pastor at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Walpole, followed the complainant into a wooded area behind the Route 138 Park and Ride lot in Canton at about 8:30 a.m. and touched him inappropriately, State Police said in a statement. The complainant claims that he then ran out of the woods and back into the lot to call the police. It was then that he allegedly observed Father Defendant get into his car. The complainant wrote down the license plate number and State Police tracked Father Defendant down at his home in Walpole, according to the statement.
After the investigation and arrest of the priest, Father Defendant was then identified by the complainant after presented by the police. The State Police indicate that Father Defendant was wearing clothes that matched the complainant’s description.
Father Defendant pleaded not guilty to one count of indecent assault and battery, and is due back in court on Aug. 16, said David Traub, spokesman for the Norfolk district attorney.
“Well, Sam ,” you say as you shrug your shoulders, “What’s the big deal? It seems open and shut to me.”
Well, as you know if you are a regular reader of this blog, very little is “open and shut” to me
Granted, this case has just begun and I am neither personally nor professionally involved in it. However, there are a couple of things that strike out at my defense lawyer corpuscles as I review the story.
First of all, when I see this kind of allegation (knowing that the general media have already revealed the identity of Father Defendant (who, incidentally, is presumed innocent), while keeping the adult complainant’s identity a secret, I have a flash of what our assumed guilty accused is going through. The Church has asked him to refrain from publically preaching and those around him are viewing him with suspicion and scorn. So goes it with the accused in this country…particularly when it comes to sexual assault. If the complainant were a child, Father Defendant might be enjoying his Constitutional rights from the inside of a jail cell.
In short, at least for the next couple of years, his life is destroyed…regardless of the verdict.
And so I turn to the accusations (as far as is publically known).
There is an identification by the complainant in this case. Isn’t that, in itself, enough to convince us that Father Defendant is guilty?
Well, I would say “no”. There are many recent studies which determine identification evidence to be inherently unreliable. There are many reasons for this. One is of the reasons is the way such identifications are carried out.
Gone are the days when “identification” means a line-up. Nowadays, simply parading the accused by the complainant, usually while the former is in cuffs, is considered nonsuggestive enough. And so it is that as I envision the officers dragging Father Defendant to the attention of the complainant, asking, “Is this the guy? He is dresssed similarly.”. To me, this is not necessarily enough to convict him in my eyes.
And, by the way, how was he dressed? Was he dressed as a member of the clergy? Was he dressed as one would expect a priest to be dressed? If so, it is no surprise that, when the car was traced back to a church, someone so dressed was found.
And then, there is the story itself. Does this sound odd to you? A priest, who presumably has never been in trouble before, suddenly decides to just grope a passer-by who just happens to decide to “go to the bathroom” in the woods outside a Park ‘N Drive? All this while he is using a church vehicle (easily traced) to make his getaway? It raises a number of questions to me…both about the “attacker” as well as the complainant.
But then, perhaps I am just the suspicious type.
In the meantime, there is the fact that Father Defendant was not found at the scene of the alleged crime. In fact, apparently, the complainant lost sight of him between the alleged groping and the priest’s alleged driving off. Then, he was traced by the church vehicle. The police then grabbed Father Defendant and did their “identification” with the complainant.
I have not yet even gone into issues which usually surround such matters, such as the complainant’s opportunity to observe, what the complainant did upon being so assaulted, any other potential motivations, etc.
Again, I have no inside knowledge of this case. I do, however, have a lot of inside knowledge of what happens to most people when they are accused of such a crime. The sad part is that most people see it as “no harm, no foul” when it comes to the nightmare Father Defendant is just beginning.
There will be plenty of harm…innocent or guilty.
It would be nice if we realized that and acted accordingly.
In the meantime, if you are facing such a nightmare and wish to consult with me regarding representing you and guiding you through it, please feel free to give me a call at 617-492-3000 .
To view the original story upon which today’s blog was based, please go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/06/walpole_priest.html?p1=Well_MostPop_Emailed4
TOMORROW: Is the City of Cambridge the site of a return to the Cold War? As alleged spies are arraigned in federal court, we look at their case.