Court opens slain altar boy investigation files

Secret Courts | Feature | July 29, 2004

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Court opens slain altar boy investigation files

  • Sealed investigative files from the 1972 murder of a 13-year-old altar boy must be made public, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled.

July 29, 2004 -- Massachusetts' highest court ruled Tuesday that the files relating to the murder investigation of a former altar boy must be opened to the public.

After nearly a year and a half in court, The (Springfield) Republican , along with 46 alleged victims of sexual abuse by clergymen, succeeded in their fight to open the 32-year-old records.

"It's a hugely important story," said Marie Grady, managing editor of the Republican . "It's been frustrating; we've fought this in court as far back as 1995."

The altar boy, 13-year-old Daniel Croteau, had lived in Springfield when his body was found in April 1972 in the Chicopee River. Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett's office closed the case and impounded the investigatory records in 1996, after blood tests failed to conclusively link the crime's only suspect, former priest Richard Lavigne.

Lavigne did not publicly emerge as a suspect in the Croteau murder until the mid-1990s, after he pleaded guilty in 1992 to reduced charges of molesting two boys. He served seven months at a Catholic treatment center and had 10 years of supervised probation, but was never charged in the Croteau murder.

In October 2003, a Massachusetts superior court judge ruled that the investigatory records should be open to the public, except for witnesses' names and addresses. In November 2003, an appeals court reversed, stating that the records must remain impounded.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court's judgment, stating that more than 30 years have passed since the investigation began and there was no longer a good reason to keep the records impounded.

The case was reopened in 2003, when Bennett said he was pursuing more advanced DNA testing, according to TheBostonChannel.com. Bennett could not be reached for comment.

Bennett told the Republican that he will begin redacting the witnesses' names and addresses from the documents to comply with the court order, but did not give a date or time frame as to the release of the records.

Grady said her newspaper has already received the autopsy report as well as some lab reports.

Lavigne was defrocked in November 2003. On July 22, the Diocese of Springfield settled a lawsuit brought by 46 of Lavigne's alleged victims for $7 million; it settled a 1994 suit brought by 17 other alleged victims for $1.4 million.

John J. Stobierski, who represented the 46 alleged victims -- collectively referred to in court as John Doe -- filed the initial motion to un-impound the documents 17 months ago. He also represented the 46 people in the case against the diocese.

"It's good for freedom of the press, but particularly good for victims of the crimes," he said. "It's the public's right to know, but it's also about the victim's right to know."

(The Republican Co. v. Appeals Court; Media Counsel: Jonathan Albano, Bingham McCutchen, Boston) -- CZ

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