WSJ: Justice Delayed for Father MacRae of

From the WSJ:

Justice Delayed for Father MacRae
A list of officers with credibility issues calls his 1994 conviction into question.

Father Gordon MacRae has been in prison since 1994, when a New Hampshire jury convicted him of sexual assault and he was sentenced to 33½ to 67 years. The charges against him were “built by a determined sex-abuse investigator and an atmosphere in which accusation was, in effect, all the proof required to bring a guilty verdict,” the Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote in 2013. Father MacRae has maintained his innocence all along.

A new development will soon provide Granite State courts an opportunity to reconsider Father MacRae’s conviction. The state attorney general has published a so-called Laurie List of law-enforcement officers with credibility problems. The list is named for State v. Laurie, a 1995 case in which the state supreme court overturned a conviction after exposure of a detective’s dishonest conduct.

The list initially included Detective James F. McLaughlin of the Keene Police Department, who was the lead investigator in the MacRae case. He made the list for alleged “falsification of records” in an unrelated case in 1985. Detective McLaughlin successfully petitioned to have his name removed from the list, but the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism sued to learn who had been removed. (Detective McLaughlin has declined to respond to local press requests for comment on the list.)

Father MacRae plans to ask a court to throw out his conviction, arguing that Thomas Grover, his only accuser at trial, testified falsely at Detective McLaughlin’s behest. As Ms. Rabinowitz has documented, Detective McLaughlin’s own reports showed that he attempted a sting by writing a letter to Father MacRae and forging the signature of Jon Grover, the accuser’s brother. According to supporters of Father MacRae who run the website, Detective McLaughlin failed to produce and maintain recordings of interviews with alleged victims, despite making adamant statements about the importance of recordings in child-abuse investigations.

In a May 1994 lawsuit, Father MacRae alleged that Detective McLaughlin accused the priest of having taken pornographic photographs of one of the alleged victims. No such photos were ever found. (Detective McLaughlin filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, which the judge denied. After Father MacRae was convicted in September 1994, the judge dismissed the suit without prejudice.)

Ms. Rabinowitz wrote a series of stories about such cases beginning in the late 1980s. False and implausible accusations of child sexual abuse led to conviction and imprisonment of innocent people from New York and Florida to Washington state.

All this happened because “believe the children” became a nationwide mantra. Society has a duty to protect young children—but also to assess accusations rationally and fairly, especially when they’re improbable, spectacular and horrifying. Journalists, too, must maintain a level of skepticism when cases as improbable as these arise. Any reporter who covers the legal system should have recognized the high probability that these accusations were false.

Most of the defendants in these cases were ultimately released, but their lives had been ruined. The recent development in Father MacRae’s case offers hope of another such bittersweet vindication.

Mr. Silverglate is a Boston-based criminal-defense and civil-liberties lawyer.

Appeared in the October 10, 2022, print edition as ‘Justice Delayed for Father MacRae’.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Texdon says:

    Some of the comments in the ‘Justice Delayed for Father MacRae’ article are indicative of the group think that if a Catholic priest is accused of a crime then he must be guilty. One commenter considers him guilty since he offered no defense at his trial.
    Fr. MacRae offered no defense because the judge did not allow him to testify in court. It was a sham trial and the case would probably been thrown out if anyone other than a Catholic priest were on trial.
    Rather than sign a plea deal for something he did not do, Fr. MacRae has bravely spent the years since the trial in prison. Hopefully there is now a better chance he can be freed.
    Fr. MacRae posts a weekly blog “Beyond these stone walls” which is worth following.

  2. ClairefromMaine says:

    Sadly Fr Gordon does not receive any visits from priests in Maine and rarely from priests in New England. Even though he has been abandoned by his church locally, Cardinal Pell wrote about Fr. Gordon’s innocence in his prison journal. Praying that the corruption that put Fr. Gordon in prison will be exposed and Fr Gordon be found innocent.

  3. Thomas S says:

    Just read up on this Fr. MacRae.

    “Whether it would have changed the outcome for MacRae, who pleaded guilty and who told Church superiors he abused boys, remains to be seen.”

    What am I missing here? He admitted to abuse, but now claims he’s innocent?

  4. Tamara T. says:

    I have followed Father MacRae’s blog for a very long time. It saddens me tremendously that this happened to him. With all the evidence out there now, how he can still be denied justice is incomprehensible. There is little this housewife in Missouri can do for him but I am praying for him everyday and sharing his blog on social media in the hopes that it will reach another person who might make a difference in his pleas for justice. In the meantime, I am very grateful for the impact Fr. MacRae is making on the people close to him. God is so good to have given that prison a good, holy priest like Fr. MacRae.

  5. Liz says:

    Thomas S. not to sound disrespectful, but you need to dig deeper. I have been friends with Fr. MacRae for many years, and I know, with certainty, that he was falsely convicted. He is a good and holy priest. Just ask his former cellmate and best friend, Pornchai “Max” Moontri, who was abused by his stepfather in a horrific case that is so hard to read that I can’t fathom living it. He can tell you what kind of man and what kind of priest Fr. MacRae is. It is Fr. MacRae’s holy example that brought Pornchai into the Church. I pray to God daily for these two men, and that Father will be released from prison soon.

  6. Fr. Kelly says:

    I have no special knowledge of Fr. McRae’s case but
    @Thomas S, I would suggest you should question your source there. You quote someone as saying that Fr. MacRae pleaded guilty.

    Fr. Z in his post says: “Father MacRae has maintained his innocence all along.”

    And @Texdon says: “Fr. MacRae offered no defense because the judge did not allow him to testify in court. …
    Rather than sign a plea deal for something he did not do, Fr. MacRae has bravely spent the years since the trial in prison.”

    This sounds like a verifiable matter of historical fact. Either he did plead guilty or he didn’t. The testimony of those who know him and the history of the case make it seem most likely that he did not admit guilt.

  7. grateful says:

    Here’s the explanation: (from the WSJ article, May 10, 2013
    …” In mid-trial, the state was moved to offer Father MacRae an enticing plea deal: one to three years for an admission of guilt. The priest refused it, as he had turned down two previous offers, insisting on his innocence.

    Still, the jury trial would end with a conviction in September 1994, and a sentence equivalent to a life term handed down by Judge Arthur Brennan. That would not be all. The state threatened a new prosecution on additional charges unless the priest pleaded guilty to those, in exchange for no added prison time. Without funds and unable to hire a new lawyer, already facing a crushing sentence and certain, given the climate in which he would face a second trial, that he could only be convicted, Father MacRae accepted the deal.”

    Looks like the truth was withheld from jury members too.
    “One glaring omission from the prosecutorial rhetoric in the Father MacRae case is that he could have left prison after just one year had he actually been guilty and willing to say so. On multiple occasions before and during his 1994 trial, MacRae was offered pre-trial plea deals by the state prosecutor with the approval of his accusers. In exchange for a plea of guilty in lieu of a trial, MacRae could have served a prison sentence of only one to three years and could have left prison by 1997. The jury never knew of MacRae’s repeated refusals of this deal.

  8. redneckpride4ever says:

    If all I have read here is true, I’m disgusted with my state.

  9. Centra Valley says:

    I have followed this case for years. I always thought he was innocent and I still do. I know there have been many horrific priests who have committed horrific crimes but there are also innocently accused priests and I always felt this priest was one of the innocent ones. An absolute shame how the hierarchy and his brother priests have treated him. God knows.

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  11. Archlaic says:

    I do not know Fr. MacRae although I am familiar with his case. If anyone has any doubts, read-up on it. Definitely read Dorothy (wonderful Catholic name) Rabinowitz’s work on this:

    Also a quick interview with her:

    If you are intrigued, you will have no trouble finding any of her other work on Fr. MacRae’s case – and also several other flagrantly fraudulent prosecutions e.g. the notorious Fells Acre Day Care case in Massachusetts – nor will you have to look much further for his other defenders, who include virtually anyone who has taken the time to delve into the actual facts and records of his case.

    If you can’t take the time to read any of the stuff, at least say a prayer for him… If you can’t bring yourself to believe he’s innocent, then say a prayer that God’s will be done and that true justice may be done in his case!

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