The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Victims challenge voiding Geoghan record

By Brendan McCarthy, Globe Correspondent, 8/28/2003

Maryetta Dussourd was still reeling from the news that former priest and convicted child molester John J. Geoghan had been killed when she received an even bigger shock: Geoghan's conviction could be erased because he died while it was being appealed.

"How dare our government try to sweep clean such a dirty slate," said Dussourd, a Jamaica Plain mother whose three sons and four nephews were allegedly molested by Geoghan. "Such a dirty slate of a person -- that was a child molester."

Earlier this week, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney's office said that Geoghan's lone conviction of molesting a 10-year-old boy could be overturned under a little-known Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

Yesterday Dussourd, seated behind a large desk at a news conference in her lawyer's office, called that prospect a slap in the face.

"It was a shock to me that he was dead. But he lived a life of a criminal and he died as a criminal at the hands of a criminal," Dussourd said. "How can they put aside for one second what John Geoghan has done?"

To invalidate Geoghan's conviction, his lawyer must file a death certificate with the appeals court, and a judge will sign an order to have the Middlesex Superior Court rescind not only Geoghan's conviction, but also his indictment, said Supreme Judicial Court spokeswoman Charlotte Whiting.

So far, the SJC has not been contacted by Geoghan's public defender, Whiting said. Calls to Geoghan's lawyers were not returned yesterday.

Once the paperwork is filed, the conviction is automatically erased as a matter of legal housekeeping, said Rosanna Cavallaro, a Suffolk University Law School professor who has examined the law closely.

"It is automatic because it is an established rule of procedure," Cavallaro said. "Nobody has to decide anything. There is no discretion."

Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating, who sponsored legislation in 1997 to prevent the invalidation of convictions for prisoners who die while their appeals are pending -- known as abatement -- said he hopes the current Legislature takes up the matter again in the wake of the Geoghan case.

"I hope for the future that legislation is reintroduced and passed," said Keating, a former state senator. "It was an outrage then and it's an outrage now."

Though Keating's legislation, which had the support of then-Governor William F. Weld, passed the Senate unanimously, it disappeared in the House. He said he could not recall if it even came up for a vote.

Keating's bill was prompted by the case of John C. Salvi III, a man who killed two women at Brookline abortion clinics in 1994. Salvi committed suicide in prison in 1997 while his appeal was pending. The vacation of his convictions led to a public uproar.

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who represents 147 of Geoghan's alleged victims, including Dussourd's family, said he doesn't see any alternative to the state case law.

"Hopefully the law can be changed," Garabedian said. "But the victims need to remain strong."

Garabedian said the invalidation of Geoghan's conviction will not affect the 26 civil cases Garabedian has pending.

Garabedian added that many of his clients have found it difficult to cope with the news. "The invalidation of the guilty verdict will not help in the healing process of many victims," he said.

Globe staff writer Yvonne Abraham contributed to this report.

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