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Geoghan seeks dismissal of rape charge

Lawyer's motion says state waited too long to indict

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 2/12/2002

The week before John Geoghan's second child molestation trial is scheduled to begin, the former priest's lawyer is asking a judge to throw out the charges, arguing that new evidence shows that prosecutors waited too long to indict him.

The motion filed yesterday by Geoffrey Packard contends the statute of limitations expired before his client was indicted in 1999 on two charges of raping a boy. The alleged victim told authorities in 1986 that he had been molested by Geoghan in the early 1980s. At the time, state law allowed prosecutors 10 years from the time of the crime to get an indictment.

Suffolk County prosecutors say that although the alleged victim first reported in 1986 that Geoghan had fondled him, he didn't report until 1989 that Geoghan had raped him. Since Geoghan is facing trial on the alleged rapes, not the fondling, prosecutors argue that the statute of limitations should be assessed from 1989.

Prosecutors also argue that because the law was changed in 1996 to extend the statute of limitations to 15 years, it should be retroactively applied to the Geoghan case, giving them until 2004 to get an indictment.

If Packard convinces a judge that the statute of limitations should be measured from 1986, prosecutors have another argument. State law suspends the statute of limitations while an accused abuser is not "usually and publicly resident." Since Geoghan was out of state for 107 days in 1989 and 1995 for psychological treatment, prosecutors say, that pushes the 10-year statute of limitations past May 1996, when legislators extended the period to 15 years.

Whether the case against Geoghan goes forward or is thrown out will depend on Judge Margaret Hinkle's legal parsing of the state's statute of limitations in child rape cases, which the Legislature has changed at least four times since 1985.

Case law says little about these unusual questions: Does it matter how specific the alleged victim was about the precise nature of the molestation? And what does "usually and publicly resident" mean?

Hinkle will hear arguments on the issue Feb. 20, the day Geo ghan's trial is scheduled to begin. The new motion could delay the trial, since lawyers on either side might appeal Hinkle's decision. Geoghan was convicted last month of indecently touching another boy in the early 1990s.

Yesterday, Packard said prosecutors had 10 years to investigate the original allegations against Geoghan. "One thing the statute of limitations recognizes is that at some point, there's got to be an end," he said.

Packard discounted prosecutors' arguments that Geoghan's stay in two out-of-state treatment centers extended the statute of limitations. Other cases have interpreted that part of the law as covering long-term moves, such as being incarcerated or a permanent change of residence, he said.

"I'm not aware of any case that really covers going to New Jersey for Thanksgiving," he said. "The Geoghan case presents a case that's sort of in between."

Assistant District Attorney David Deakin declined to discuss the motion, but his office released a statement saying, "We're very confident that we brought the charges within the statute of limitations."

Prosecutors say Geoghan met the alleged victim, then a 7-year-old boy, in the early 1980s. The priest began spending time with the boy, taking him out for ice cream and swimming at the West Roxbury High School pool. Geoghan allegedly fondled the boy in the locker room, and orally raped him on more than one occasion at a West Roxbury house owned by Geoghan's family.

The boy first told his mother in 1986 that Geoghan had fondled his genitals, prosecutors say. His mother told the boy's therapist and both adults filed reports with the state Department of Social Services in February 1986, prosecutors say. Sometime that year, the boy's mother also filed a complaint with the Boston Police Department. Although she says she cannot remember when that was, prosecutors say, she remembers the weather was warm.

In 1989, after another boy accused Geoghan of abuse, prosecutors spoke to the first victim and his mother. For the first time, prosecutors say, the boy alleged that Geoghan had orally raped him. Although prosecutors investigated, they did not prosecute Geoghan.

It wasn't until after the alleged victim, then in his 20s, was interviewed again by prosecutors in 1998 and 1999 that Geoghan was indicted on the rape charges.

Also yesterday, prosecutors asked Hinkle to change the dates on Geoghan's indictment to reflect anticipated testimony during the trial. The date change does not affect the statute of limitations.

Deakin is asking the judge to change the indictments to read "uncertain dates" between December 1981 and the summer of 1985. The indictments had previously covered the time between December 1980 and December 1984.

Prosecutors were dogged by conflicting dates in Geoghan's trial last month in Middlesex Superior Court when the alleged victim and his mother gave differing testimony on the year Geoghan fondled the victim. Jurors, however, convicted Geoghan.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com.

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 2/12/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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