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Jurors defend Geoghan decision

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 1/29/2002

The jurors had barely announced that they had found John J. Geoghan guilty of indecent assault when the criticism began: some pundits and legal specialists, including Geoghan's lawyer, suggested the jurors were influenced by publicity about the defrocked priest's other alleged crimes. Now some of the jurors, speaking publicly for the first time, are angry about those assumptions, saying they knew little about Geoghan before the trial and reached their verdict by considering only the evidence before them.

Geoghan, 66, was convicted Jan. 18 for improperly touching a 10-year-old boy in a swimming pool a decade ago, sliding his hand inside the boy's bathing suit and squeezing his buttocks.

"I just think that this whole business of `You people couldn't possibly be fair' is ludicrous," said one juror who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "There was not one person who walked into that deliberation room who had made their mind up one way or the other. He got as fair a jury as he possibly could."

That juror, like the others interviewed, said he only had a vague idea of who Geoghan was or why he was in the news when the trial began. Another juror, Kevin Lee of Stoneham, said Geoghan's face looked familiar, but he didn't know why.

Most said they had not heard about Cardinal Bernard F. Law's apology the previous week to the alleged victims of Geoghan, who has been accused of molesting more than 130 children over three decades.

"Not everybody in the world spends their entire life focused on a TV watching tabloid features on cases like the Geoghan case," said the first juror.

Four jurors agreed to discuss the case, including two who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Although Middlesex Superior Court Judge Sandra Hamlin decided not to release the list of their names, the master list of nearly 200 people called for jury duty that day is public.

Although none of the jurors said their decision was based on any single piece of testimony, their vote to convict was rooted firmly in one thing: They believed the victim.

The 10-year-old boy is now a 20-year-old college junior. When he testified, he spoke softy and answered questions with short sentences. Some of the jurors thought the young man seemed slightly embarrassed to be in the courtroom telling his story, and that made him seem even more credible, they said. He spoke simply, they said, and didn't exaggerate how the touching had affected him.

"To me, it just seemed like he was telling the truth," said Herbert Emery IV, a contractor from Melrose. "It wasn't flowered or anything like that."

The first juror added, "They didn't make a bunch of outlandish claims."

And the jurors were willing to excuse the victim for not remembering the exact date, including the year, when the incident happened.

"He's a 10-year-old boy," the first juror said. "So you don't necessarily expect him to remember what day it was or what time it was."

But the jurors also spent time talking about the differences in the testimony of the victim and his mother, who gave a different date and different version of events -- including that her son told her that Geoghan touched him as he was getting out of the swimming pool; the boy had said he was floating in the water.

But the jurors said that after getting legal instructions from the judge they decided to use the mother's testimony only as corroboration. "It didn't matter if she had a different story, as long as some of the facts corroborated the son's," Emery said.

Some of the jurors also said their decision was influenced by the testimony of Geoghan's former psychiatrist, who had said he and Geoghan had discussed the former priest's attraction to children.

"The case was not airtight and that's something we had to deal with," said the first juror. "That's where the phrase, `reasonable doubt' comes in. [Prosecutor] Lynn Rooney said it best: `This is certainly not the most egregious case of child abuse.' It wasn't. But that doesn't mean he didn't do it, either."

The jurors repeatedly said they knew prosecutors had the burden to prove Geoghan guilty. And yet they said they didn't find Geoghan's defense very effective.

Lawyer Geoffrey Packard, they said, didn't offer an alternative version of the events or an innocent explanation.

Nor were they impressed by Packard's argument that the victim and his mother only came forward to make money off the church. The boy and his mother waited about eight years, when they decided to file a civil lawsuit, before they told authorities about the incident.

But the jurors said they decided the civil lawsuit had nothing to do with the criminal case before them.

"That didn't really play into our thinking," Lee said. "We just pushed that aside."

Some of the jurors struggled with the six legal components of indecent assault and battery on a child, twice asking the judge to repeat that part of her instructions. But in the end, the vote to convict was unanimous.

"Nobody wants to put a man in jail," said the second anonymous juror. "One of the things the jury said out loud was we have to be confident when we walk out that we aren't going to say, `Damn, we made a mistake.' "

Kathleen Burge can be reached by e-mail at kburge@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 1/29/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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