Sunday, October 20, 2013

For Fr. Gordon MacRae’s Appeal to Move Forward, Help Is Needed

By Ryan A. MacDonald 

New Hampshire courts have declined to hear the habeas corpus appeal of Fr Gordon MacRae, and now an appeal to federal court begins, but the help of many is needed.

(These Stone Walls) Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Ryan A. MacDonald, author of A Ram in the Thicket. I hope every visitor to These Stone Walls has read and shared with others, “The Trials of Father MacRae,” an account of egregious injustice penned last May by Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist, Dorothy Rabinowitz. Ms. Rabinowitz was also interviewed in a compelling video on this case which I urge readers not to miss. One phrase in her WSJ article provides a conscience-stirring summation:

“Those aware of the facts of this case find it hard to imagine that any court today would ignore the perversion of justice it represents.’
Three months after the above article was published, a superior court judge in New Hampshire dismissed this appeal without hearing any testimony on its merits or evidence. More recently, an expensive but necessary appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court met, in late September, with yet another refusal by state courts to hear this case.

I am one of those aware of the facts of this case, one who, as Dorothy Rabinowitz put forth, finds it hard to imagine that any court today would ignore the perversion of justice it represents. And “perversion of justice” is the most apt description of the 1994 trial that convicted Gordon MacRae and sent him to prison. So I have asked for some space on These Stone Walls this week to update readers on the status of an appeal effort on behalf of this wrongfully imprisoned priest.
This is also an appeal of my own, an appeal to readers to assist with a fund raising effort to continue this hope for justice. Any gift, large or small, will greatly aid this just cause to bring hope and justice to an innocent man, a man who has just begun his 20th year of wrongful imprisonment. I have written below a description of why I am convinced this case is a just and worthy cause, and then I want to describe how you can help.

No. 1 - Rectory


Like so many who have looked at this case, I was aghast when I first became familiar with the details of the trial of Father MacRae. I wrote of this trial in an article entitled “Judge Arthur Brennan Sentenced Fr Gordon MacRae to Die in Prison.” Once I became aware of this trial, I also wanted to see for myself exactly where this was all claimed to have taken place. What I saw was a compelling visual to accompany something Attorney Robert Rosenthal included in his appellate brief to the NH Supreme Court:

“In what the petitioner asserts has been revealed as a scam to obtain a cash settlement from the Catholic church, Tom Grover, a drug addict, alcoholic and criminal, accused Father Gordon MacRae of molesting him years before. Grover’s civil suit – featuring MacRae’s conviction -earned him nearly $200,000. No witnesses to the alleged acts could be found, despite that they were to have occurred in busy places. Grover’s claims were contradicted by objective facts (e.g. inoperable locks that he claimed worked, acts in an office to which MacRae did not have access, claims about a chess set that had not [yet] been purchased).”
Just how busy was the place in which Thomas Grover claimed to have been repeatedly assaulted at age 15 by Father MacRae in the summer of 1983? To answer this question for myself, I became quite familiar with the scene above during a short trip this past summer to Keene, New Hampshire and its much-touted downtown Main Street.

A small city with a population of about 23,500 (not counting the 5,000+ students enrolled in Keene State College) Keene is the social and economic hub of southwestern New Hampshire. It boasts the widest Main Street in the United States, and its vibrant downtown area – the envy of many cities its size – is a bustling collection of quaint and busy shops, restaurants, a theatre, offices, and a concert area on the Keene Commons.

This bustling downtown area begins at the doors of Saint Bernard Church and Rectory, the scene depicted above. The building in the background is Saint Joseph Regional Catholic School (grades K to 8). The entire complex is bordered on the left by the 5,000 student campus of Keene State College, and on the right by busy downtown Keene. Just across the wide, heavily traveled Main Street from the rectory door is the region’s largest and busiest U.S. Post Office, a pizza restaurant heavily patronized by KSC students, and a convenience store conducting a brisk college town business 24/7.

No. 2 - saint bernard Rectory

In the scene just above, note the flat-roofed adjunct just to the left of the rectory building. It was added on at some point to the large old house that became St. Bernard Rectory. The few stairs and rounded door on the building’s left side was in 1983 the rectory’s main business entrance.

Around 1980 or so, a closed circuit television camera was installed just above that door because the rectory had been the scene of a number of urban burglaries and an armed robbery or two. In the late 1970s, two priests and the pastor’s elderly mother were tied up at gunpoint in the rectory basement while the house was robbed. 

Just inside that door in the 1980s was the desk of a receptionist and secretary staffed in two shifts from 9:00 AM until 9:00 PM. Also just inside the door was a waiting area for parishioners wanting to see one of the four priests assigned there in early 1980s, and for daily clients of the region’s busy St. Vincent DePaul Society seeking assistance with food, clothing, and emergency shelter. This doorway was the busiest place in or around Saint Bernard Parish in the 1980s. The photo above was taken very early in the morning. At virtually any other time, it is a hubbub of activity.

Just to the left of that door is a large window. It was just behind this highly visible office window – in full view of the daily hustle and bustle of Main Street traffic and a steady stream of visitors into and out of St. Bernard Church and Rectory – that 27-year-old Thomas Grover claimed at trial in 1994 that he was four times overpowered and sexually assaulted by Father Gordon MacRae in the summer of 1983.

It was here behind this window where Grover claimed that in the months just prior to his 16th birthday he sought MacRae out for counseling for his drug addiction, but instead was threatened, berated, made to cry, and then raped. It was here behind this window that 220-pound Thomas Grover claimed to have returned four times from week to week unable to remember the sexual assaults alleged to have occurred in previous weeks. It was behind this window that he claimed to have the PTSD induced “out-of-body experiences” that caused him not to remember.

Thomas Grover claimed that these assaults occurred in this office commencing in April 1983 and ending just as he turned 16 years old in mid-November 1983. It has been determined that Father MacRae did not arrive at St. Bernard Church until mid-June 1983, and did not have access to this particular office, or any office on the first floor, because they were occupied by other priests until the end of July 1983. Grover then vaguely claimed other assaults in other nearby places, moving at least one claim to an adjacent busy office to which MacRae also had no access that summer.

No. 3 picture saint bernard catholic church keene nh 0

The prosecution produced not a single witness to these acts. No one ever saw Thomas Grover there. No one ever opened the door to admit him, or saw him leave. No one ever claimed to have heard anything. An ornate marble chess set that Grover claimed was inside that office during the 1983 assaults was not purchased by the priest until three years later in 1986. According to Thomas Grover’s ex-wife, Thomas Grover perjured himself about the chess set claiming that it was what he was told to say. A lock Grover claimed that MacRae used to secure the office door had been dismantled and painted over years before the priest arrived.

The one person who could have helped in this appellate defense – a prominent priest of the Diocese of Manchester – refused to help. The above scene was his office for several years before MacRae arrived, and for several years after MacRae left St. Bernard’s. That priest could have spoken to the improbability of all that had been claimed. He could have described the locks that didn’t work, the shade on the office window that wasn’t there in 1983, the absence of air conditioning requiring that this office window remain wide open to the front door main entrance throughout summer months.
That priest could have attested to the traffic; to the noise of people coming and going, noise that easily penetrated that office door in both directions. He could have attested to the waiting area just outside that office door, and its steady stream of people. But he refused. In his answer to Father MacRae’s plea as the investigation for this appeal began, that priest wrote, “I can’t be of any help to you, and don’t see the necessity to entertain any further correspondence from you.”

And this as the Bishop of Manchester, who promised assistance and then reneged, informed Vatican officials and others that he and the Diocese of Manchester fully support Father MacRae’s right of defense.

We of good conscience and justice in our hearts cannot allow this to stand. Let’s make this an effort of the Church Pope Francis speaks of, the Church of the people addressing an egregious injustice with the small gifts of the many instead of the efforts of a few. Please help... (continued)


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