MA Supreme Court Upholds Repressed Memories in Priest Sex Assault Case
The Massachussetts Supreme Court today upheld the child sex assault conviction of defrocked Roman Catholic priest Paul M. Shanley. Shanley was prosecuted by Martha Coakley based on repressed memory evidence. Not only was the conviction upheld, but the Court officially validated the dubious evidence considered by many to be junk science.
"In sum, the judge's finding that the lack of scientific testing did not make unreliable the theory that an individual may experience dissociative amnesia was supported in the record, not only by expert testimony but by a wide collection of clinical observations and a survey of academic literature,'' Justice Robert Cordy wrote for the SJC.
As amicus brief author R. Christopher Barden, a psychologist and attorney.one of the amicus brief authorspsychologist says: [More...]
...the court "has now broadly damaged the credibility of the Massachusetts legal system.''
He added, "future reviewers will cringe at this science-illiterate opinion. In its reliance upon debunked, irrational, junk science, the Shanley case revisits the infamous Salem witch trials."
Not surprisingly, Martha's good pal Wendy Murphy filed an amicus brief supporting the conviction. She "heralded" the decision (as she did the conviction of nanny Louise Woodward years ago.)
"that the inability of a child to remember will never be used as a reason to deny a victim access to justice.''
The victim came forward in 2002, 20 years after the alleged abuse, which he says occurred when he was between the ages of 6 and 11. He received a $500k settlement from the Archdiose. The Boston Herald reports:
[t]he victim also testified that he had repressed the memory of his abuse for years only realizing that he was a victim after he began reading about cases in Boston and looking at photographs of Shanley in the papers and on the Internet. At the time he was stationed at an Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
Dalia Lathwick in 2005:
According to the 27-year-old witness, his memories of the abuse began to surface only in 2002, when he was a military police officer stationed in Colorado. His girlfriend called to tell him about an article about Shanley in the Boston Globe and about another man, Greg Ford, who claimed to have been raped by Shanley at St. Jean's. Ford was a good friend, and hearing about his experience seems to have tripped his own memory. He called a lawyer.
Back to the Globe report:
During the trial, prosecutors had argued that the victim should be believed because the emotional trauma he suffered created a "dissociative amnesia,'' which is recognized by the mental health profession as a legitimate psychiatric disorder.
The Court didn't even rule out a conviction based on repressed memory when its the only evidence:
"We do not consider whether there could be circumstances where testimony based on the repressed or recovered memory of a victim, standing alone, would not be sufficient as a matter of law to support a conviction,'' Cordy wrote in a footnote.
As for Shanley, he's 79 and serving a 12 to 15 year sentence:
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