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Judge keeps 31-year-old murder case documents sealed

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Judge keeps 31-year-old murder case documents sealed

  • A Massachusetts district attorney joined forces with a convicted child molester to successfully fight the release of documents relating to the 1972 unsolved murder of a 13-year-old altar boy.

Nov. 17, 2003 — Documents relating to the 1972 unsolved murder of an altar boy must remain “impounded,” a Massachusetts appeals court held last week.

On Nov. 10, Judge John Mason of the Massachusetts Court of Appeals overturned a Hampden County Superior Court decision, ruling that the documents should remain sealed because the 31-year-old case is still open. Mason held that the plaintiffs did not prove “a material change of circumstance” had occurred since the appeals court ruled in 1996 to impound the documents.

Attorneys for The (Springfield) Republican and an alleged victim of sexual abuse by a clergyman say they will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Judicial Court.

“There’s such a tremendous public interest in this case that we feel it’s important to take any step necessary to get these documents released,” said Marie Grady, managing editor of the Republican.

Investigators did not publicly identify the Rev. Richard Lavigne as the primary suspect in the 1972 murder of 13-year-old Daniel Croteau until the mid-1990s, although police records indicate that he was given three different polygraph tests just weeks after the murder. Croteau’s bludgeoned body was found on the banks of the Chicopee River April 15, 1972. Lavigne, 56, of Chicopee, Mass., was Croteau’s priest and a close friend of his family.

At least 25 men have claimed they were sexually abused by Lavigne between 1967 and 1990. Lavigne pleaded guilty in 1992 to reduced charges of molesting two boys, and served seven months at a Catholic treatment center. The Diocese of Springfield settled a lawsuit in 1994 brought by 17 of Lavigne’s alleged victims for $1.4 million.

The impounded police documents include autopsy reports, the Chicopee Police Department’s summary of its investigation of Lavigne, summaries of statements from Lavigne’s sex abuse victims, and Lavigne’s employment record.

Appeals Judge Elizabeth Porada had ordered the documents sealed in 1996, ruling that their release may interfere with the investigation or violate the privacy of Lavigne’s sex abuse victims.

The Republican and others have since argued, and the superior court concurred in late October, that the burden was now on the defendants to prove good cause exists for continued impoundment of the documents.

Attorney John Stobierski filed a motion to unseal the documents, to be used in a civil case he is pursuing on behalf of an unidentified client who claims Lavigne molested him as a child.

Superior Court Judge Peter Velis ruled Oct. 30 that the documents should be released, finding that the public has “a right and a compelling interest in accessing the impounded materials.”

“I find that, in this current climate, disclosure of the records would not detrimentally affect investigators’ ability to obtain any new sources of information . . . but that it would more likely lend impetus to the investigation by encouraging remaining witnesses to come forward.”

Lavigne has denied any involvement in Croteau’s murder.

(Doe v. Clerk of the Hampden County Superior Court; Media Attorney: Joseph Pessolano, Springfield) MC

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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