U.S. attorney assisting probe of Massachusetts
By STEPHANIE BARRY
The Springfield Republican
March 5, 2004
SPRINGFIELD - Federal prosecutors have offered assistance
to the district attorney as he examines a wealth of possibilities
for pursuing the first criminal trial of a Catholic bishop
for sexually abusing minors.
Despite hurdles presented by statute of limitations laws,
Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett made clear
yesterday that the facts underlying the case against ex-bishop
Thomas L. Dupre offer prosecutors a range of potential charges.
Although the 15-year deadline for child rape charges has
expired, Bennett said other charges against Dupre could include
federal crimes related to interstate travel with minors he
is accused of abusing. A grand jury will soon hear testimony
about an array of possible criminal activity, Bennett said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William M. Welch II yesterday said
federal prosecutors in Springfield began discussions with
Bennett almost immediately after Dupre resigned Feb. 11 as
bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. The resignation
came amid allegations he raped two men over 20 years ago,
when he was a parish priest and they were 12 and 13.
A lawyer for the men has said Dupre took his clients on trips
to New York, Connecticut and New Hampshire, among other places,
including Canada. Interstate travel can propel state-driven
rape charges to federal court, where sentences are more onerous.
"It's completely understood that the district attorney's
office is driving this investigation, but to the extent that
we can offer any assistance or resources, we have offered
it," Welch said yesterday, adding that his office has
had subsequent discussions about the case with Bennett.
Under federal law, interstate travel involving the sexual
exploitation of a child carries a maximum sentence of 20 years
for first-time offenders. But the statute of limitations for
the federal charge would mirror that of the underlying state
charge of child rape: 15 years after the victim turns 16.
Canada, however, has no statute of limitations for serious
sex crimes, including rape.
Dupre's alleged victims are now 39 and 40; they only came
forward after The Republican submitted questions to Dupre
Feb. 10 about the abuse. Dupre resigned Feb. 11 and checked
himself into a Maryland facility that treats patients with
a range of disorders, including those accused of sexually
Other charges Dupre could potentially face, according to
Bennett and other lawyers:
Witness intimidation, if it is found Dupre made efforts to
influence or silence the men; incidents must have occurred
within six years of the date of an indictment; 10-year maximum
sentence Obstruction of justice, if it is found that Dupre
impeded in any way a criminal investigation of which he was
aware; incidents must have occurred within six years of an
indictment; 10-year maximum sentence Act in aid of concealment;
if it is found that Dupre covered up evidence of the abuse
allegations against him or others; charges must be brought
within 15 years of the crime (of concealment); maximum sentence
unclear Failure to report sexual abuse allegations to the
appropriate authorities; maximum one-year jail sentence Conspiracy,
if Dupre and others conspired to cover up the alleged abuse;
10-year maximum sentence
Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents the two
alleged victims, said the charge related to failing to report
abuse may be problematic considering the Fifth Amendment right
that precludes people from self-incrimination. But that does
not exclude others who may have known about the allegations,
"And I have reason to believe there are others,"
he said, while refusing to provide names.
MacLeish has said two letters and an e-mail were sent to
the bishop about the allegations against him. Diocesan officials
have said they did not find any such communications after
the bishop's abrupt departure.
Dupre's lawyer, Michael O. Jennings, said he was surprised
to learn that diocesan officials allowed investigators to
search Dupre's office at the chancery on Elliot Street. He
also bristled at Bennett's request that the diocese open the
doors to Dupre's second-floor personal quarters as well. "If
they want to search his personal quarters, they should go
to a judge and get a warrant," he said.
Jennings has advised Dupre not to comment on the allegations.
He also declined to comment on the potential for other charges
During his public announcement yesterday, Bennett said he
also will explore evidence that may allow for an extension
of the statute of limitations on rape charges.
But prominent criminal lawyer Vincent A. Bongiorni of Springfield
said that while he considers an indictment against Dupre likely,
overcoming legal deadlines for bringing rape charges will
"There're a number of ways in which the statute of limitations
is not absolute ... but the law states the statute should
be liberally interpreted in favor of repose," Bongiorni
said, meaning that statutes of limitations are anything but
loopholes for prosecutors.
Bongiorni noted that among the ways prosecutors have historically
tolled or extended statutes of limitations include arguments
related to whether a defendant spends significant amounts
of time out of the state or country in which a crime is committed,
or whether some kind of concealment takes place in the aftermath
of a crime.
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