Allowing neither a hearing on the merits nor testimony of witnesses, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph LaPlante denied a Habeas Corpus petition of Fr Gordon MacRae.
After a long awaited procedural hearing in the Habeas Corpus appeal of wrongly convicted priest, Father Gordon MacRae, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph LaPlante for the District of New Hampshire echoed earlier rulings by state courts to deny the petition without a further hearing on its merits or testimony. In an Order issued on March 25, 2015, Judge LaPlante further ruled that he will not issue a Certificate of Appealability in the case. Like the State courts in previous rulings, Judge LaPlante declined to hear testimony from witnesses or from the imprisoned priest himself.
At this writing, lawyers for Father MacRae are exploring the possibility of a further appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. I cannot speak to the legal ramifications of where this case stands, or of its future appeals, if any. That information will come to us in time. However, as one who has written of many of the parameters of this case, I want to write of what this latest ruling leaves unaddressed.
First and foremost, from the perspective of a layman outside the Judge’s chambers, there is an obvious perversion of the judicial system that turns justice on its head in this case. Defendant Gordon J. MacRae could have been released from prison over seventeen years ago had he in fact been guilty. The original prosecutors in this case presented an offer in writing to MacRae and his defense counsel. In that offer, MacRae would have served a maximum term of three years in prison if he would plead guilty to one charge with the dismissal of all others. MacRae, asserting that he is not guilty, declined that offer twice before his trial.
In the middle of his trial, just after the dubious testimony of 27-year-old Thomas Grover, prosecutors amended the plea offer. MacRae could have stopped the trial and served no more than two years in prison. The priest, citing his innocence, declined.
For those of us who stand on the outside looking in on the criminal justice system in New Hampshire there is an obvious problem here. Plea deals work out great for the guilty, but not for the innocent. The result is that the truly guilty often spend far less time in prison than the truly innocent, and the Father MacRae case is a classic example of that perversion of justice.
Each of the judges who have denied this man’s effort to revisit this case were aware, or should have been aware, that we would not even be having this discussion had MacRae been guilty and taken the deal. In the end, Father MacRae was sentenced to more than thirty times what the state was offering him in a plea deal. For a further examination of the plea deal v. trial dilemma, see a previous article, “Judge Arthur Brennan Sentenced Father Gordon MacRae to Die in Prison.”
ACCUSER THOMAS GROVER, ET AL
Layer upon layer in this perversion of justice will now be left standing unnuanced if this latest decision stands. If there can be no justice in a court of law, then we who write in the court of public opinion are left to expose these layers of injustice.
For any reasonable observer, the 1994 trial testimony of accuser, Thomas Grover, defies rational belief. The fact is that from indictment to sentence the justice system prosecuted this case without ever questioning Grover’s financial motive for bringing it. The Diocese of Manchester settled with him for almost $200,000.00. Further enabling this distortion of his motives, Judge Arthur Brennan, the original trial judge, kept from the jury Grover’s record of theft, forgery, drug, and assault charges.
Today the State prosecutors objecting to any reexamination of this case cite that some of the witnesses who have come forward with new information are “convicted felons.” Well, that’s true. From day one, “that sort” has always lurked in the shadows of this case. Meanwhile, Thomas Grover, who prosecutors and judges claim to believe without question, has a rap sheet as long as my arm.
That does not change the fact that the core of Grover’s testimony was ludicrous, and could have only flown in a judicial climate of hysteria about sexual abuse. This 27-year-old, 220 pound man wept dramatically on the witness stand in the 1994 trial as he described coming to the priest five times for help with his drug problem in the summer of 1983. Upon each occasion, he claimed with a straight face, MacRae the priest demeaned him, assaulted him, raped him, and left him traumatized. When asked why he returned from week to week having been so viciously assaulted each time, Grover blurted out, “I don’t know how I got there. I repressed it!” He then added that he had out-of-body experiences.
The place where this was all supposed to have happened was in a Church rectory office with a large window overlooking downtown Main Street in one of the busiest places in Keene, New Hampshire, and yet not a single witness to the assaults was every produced. No one saw or heard anything suspicious. See the place for yourself. I included some photos and a vivid description in “Justice and a Priest’s Right of Defense in the Diocese of Manchester.”
In that 1994 trial, Thomas Grover told the jury that he knew nothing of a planned lawsuit seeking money from the Diocese of Manchester. Later, outside the presence of the jury, Grover was asked how he afforded weekly counseling sessions with therapist Pauline Goupil after claiming chronic unemployment was a side effect of abuse. Grover stated that Ms. Goupil “worked something out” with his lawyer to get paid when he gets his settlement.
According to Thomas Grover’s former wife, Trina Ghedoni – another witness the courts declined to hear from today – Pauline Goupil was retained by Grover at the behest of his contingency lawyer because “They wanted him to act crazy before the jury.” In crucial testimony about a chess set in MacRae’s office, Ms. Ghedoni says today that Grover admitted to her that he perjured himself in that and other testimony because “it was what they wanted him to say.”
Trina Ghedoni described Grover as “a liar and manipulator who can tell a lie and stick to it until the very end,” and that is exactly what he did at this trial. Ms. Ghedoni adds today that she was herself bullied and manipulated by Grover and became a victim of domestic violence before this trial. “He broke my nose,” she says, describing a time when she disagreed with him. Yet today, state prosecutors contend, and judges seem to agree, that MacRae could have called her as a defense witness at his 1994 trial and expected her to stand up to Grover with the truth while they were still together. This defies reality.
Admittedly, a lot went wrong behind the scenes of this case, and some of it seemed to come from the latest issue of Soap Opera Digest. Some of those who came forward with new information had agendas of their own. The first was Charles Glenn, former stepson of accuser Thomas Grover now serving a prison sentence for second degree murder. State prosecutors made a big deal about undermining his statements that Thomas Grover lied and perjured himself by attacking his credibility for having a criminal record – again entirely overlooking Thomas Grover’s own extensive criminal record.
Charles Glenn first came forward a dozen years ago claiming to have knowledge and evidence that would overturn this case. He would not define that knowledge, but wanted substantial payment for it. Glenn made his overtures to another prisoner who then brought the information to MacRae. According to that prisoner’s signed statement, MacRae told him that he would not pay for the truth. Mr. Glenn then left prison without ever talking to MacRae.
Years later, Glenn came forward again, this time to an investigator, career FBI agent James Abbott. Glenn ceased his demand for compensation and signed statements that truthfully corroborated claims being made by his mother, Trina Ghedoni, statements that Thomas Grover repeatedly admitted to them that he perjured himself in this case for money.
Evil has a way of hating and obscuring the truth, however. Sitting in prison in punitive segregation for months on end, Charles Glenn became angry with his mother for what he perceived to be a string of broken promises. So he wrote a letter to Father MacRae’s lawyers declaring that his earlier statements about Trina’s former husband, Thomas Grover, were not the truth. Mr. Glenn also claimed that the investigator paid Trina Ghedoni for her statements and had an affair with her, a claim that both Trina Ghedoni and the investigator clearly deny.
It was preposterous, but State prosecutors jumped on it. So, apparently, did Judge LaPlante. According to court transcripts of the March 17 hearing the judge offered some testimony of his own without ever seeing or hearing from any of these witnesses:
“It’s a little ironic that we’re relying on MacRae’s investigator who, you know, improperly influenced witnesses. At least there’s evidence that he did, which is exactly the allegation made against the Keene police… Ghedoni and Glenn’s statements would have to be viewed pretty critically. They had a past relationship with Grover. And if their accounts are credited at all, including Grover’s physical abuse of Ghedoni, the breakup of their marriage under pretty sordid circumstances, and Grover’s sexually aggressive behavior toward Ghedoni’s daughters, that would give Ghedoni and Glenn reason to fabricate testimony or statements against Grover.” (T 48: 4-17)
Trina Ghedoni had been on parole because she was conned into covering for her son while he was on the run from the law. While on parole, long after she courageously wrote and signed her statements about Thomas Grover’s lies and perjury, she was about to be violated and sent back to prison because she was on the brink of homelessness due to being unable to pay her rent. She contacted investigator Jim Abbott, the only phone number she had of someone she could reach out to, and he loaned her back rent to preserve her freedom.
At the time, his investigation seemed over, the statements were signed and secured, and there seemed to him no reason why this good man was constrained from acting like a human being. Before paying the rent, he contacted Father MacRae and told him what had happened. Had there been a hearing on this matter, the Court may also have considered a subsequent statement sent to Father MacRae’s attorneys from the prisoner who was Charles Glenn’s cell mate at the time he wrote his “retraction” letter. I am protecting this writer’s identity because he remains in prison:
“On March 7, 2013 I was moved into a cell with another inmate named Charles Glenn …. He was angry and said he wrote a letter to one of [MacRae’s] attorneys stating that he completely lied in the statement he had written years before. Shocked by this, I said that by doing that he probably was killing Gordon’s case. He said that he knew that and felt really bad about it…. He told me that it shouldn’t matter anyway because he knew for a fact that Gordon was innocent and that he (Charles) had told the truth in the first statement he had written. He said that the letter he wrote to Gordon’s attorney was only written to remove himself from the case…. I am writing this so that the truth can still survive because it would be unfair and would haunt me not to do so.” (Letter of prisoner “John Doe”)
Today, two of the witnesses who have come forward – two more witnesses judges now decline to hear – report that a pattern of witness tampering took place at MacRae’s 1994 trial. At critical moments of cross-examination of Grover, these witnesses now report, he was riveted upon Ms. Pauline Goupil sitting in the back of the court. When questions were posed that Grover did not want to answer, Ms. Goupil was seen by two witnesses gesturing with her index finger from her eye down her cheek with a distinct frown on her face at which point Grover commenced crying to halt his testimony. One of the witnesses described this:
“I know what I saw and what I saw was clearly an attempt to dupe the court and the jury. If the sobbing and crying were not truthful, then I cannot help but wonder what also was not truthful on the part of Mr. Grover. If he was really a victim who wanted to tell the simple truth, then why was it necessary for him and Ms. Goupil to have what clearly appeared to be a set of prearranged signals to alter his testimony? The jury was privy to none of this to the best of my knowledge.”
The theatrics often ended a line of questioning or resulted in a recess. To date, no one in the criminal justice system has investigated this claim of witness tampering.
There were others who accused MacRae, including others in the Grover family, and they all waited a dozen years to make their claims, all coming forward in the same week. Thomas Grover’s younger brother, Jonathan Grover accused first. He first claimed he was abused simultaneously in Saint Bernard Rectory and other places in Keene, NH by two priests acting both separately and in concert: Father Gordon MacRae and Father Stephen Scruton.
Jonathan Grover first claimed that these assaults occurred when he was ten years old. Then he changed this claiming that he was twelve years old. Church files revealed, however, that MacRae was first assigned at that parish when Jonathan Grover was fourteen years old, and Scruton was never there until Grover was sixteen. At one point, Detective James McLaughlin wrote in a subsequent report that he gave the Grover brothers a copy of MacRae’s resume “to help them with their dates,” dates which were consistently off by years, not days or weeks. Was McLaughlin investigating or choreographing this case?
Thomas Grover also accused Fr Scruton before accusing MacRae, and so did his other brother, David Grover. Scruton never denied any of it. Father MacRae’s trial lawyer failed to subpoena Scruton, opting instead to send him a letter. Scruton then fled the state. A new investigator found him in 2009 and Scruton agreed to a meeting. Scruton then suffered a mysterious fall down some stairs and died before that meeting could take place.
There was no evidence in any report anywhere that police ever questioned Father Scruton. If such reports existed, they were never handed over to Father MacRae’s defense. When the chronology problems from the Grover brothers’ claims became evident, Scruton’s name was just dropped from Detective McLaughlin’s subsequent reports and MacRae became the sole priest accused. For an analysis of the multiple claims MacRae’s accusers brought against others, see “In Fr Gordon MacRae Case, Whack-a-Mole Justice Holds Court.”
Keene Police Detective James McLaughlin wrote reports of these interviews, but despite his own uniform practice and procedure, he recorded not a single interview in this case. A year earlier, he interviewed another young man, “T.B.” who accused Stephen Scruton alone, and in that case McLaughlin audio and video recorded every interview. Why he recorded none of his interviews in the case against MacRae remains an unexplained mystery, but one of the two common denominators in these accusations is Detective McLaughlin himself.
The other common denominator in this story was money – lots of it – that each “victim” stood to gain by accusing MacRae. Their motives were never questioned. “I have to believe my victims,” McLaughlin wrote in one report. In another, “I asked him where he stood on a civil lawsuit.” Evidence surfaced demonstrating that McLaughlin conducted some of his pre-trial investigation out of the office of Thomas Grover’s contingency lawyer in Concord, NH, fifty miles from Keene. From that lawyer’s office, McLaughlin conducted several unsuccessful telephone “sting” attempts to solicit an admission from MacRae.
Among the witnesses the courts decline to hear from today is Steven Wollschlager, a young man who accused Father MacRae after a 1994 interview with McLaughlin. Today Wollschlager summoned the courage to state that he never went to Detective McLaughlin with a claim. He says the detective first approached him. What follows is part of his statement that the courts today decline to hear:
“I was aware at the time of [the] trial knowing full well that it was all bogus and having heard of the lawsuits and money involved, also of the reputations of those who were making the accusations… McLaughlin had me believing that all I had to do was make up a story… and I could receive a large sum of money as others had. McLaughlin reminded me of the young child and girlfriend I had and referenced that life could be easier for us with a large amount of money.”
At the March 17 hearing cited above, Judge LaPlante seemed to imply that this alleged attempted financial influence of witnesses is similar to Father MacRae’s investigator paying Trina Ghedoni’s rent. It is not. Ms. Ghedoni’s statements were already written and signed. Steven Wollschlager implies above that he was offered a direct bribe to bring perjured testimony before a Grand Jury. When asked by Dorothy Rabinowitz about this account in her most recent article on this case in The Wall Street Journal (“The Trials of Father MacRae,” May 10, 2013), Detective McLaughlin called it “a fabrication.”
A SEX ABUSE VICTIM WORLD RECORD
Ms. Debra Collett, Thomas Grover’s one-time counselor in a residential drug treatment center is another witness the courts today decline to hear. She reports that she was threatened and bullied by “coercion, intimidation, veiled and more forward threats,” “overtly threatened,” and “confronted with threats of arrest” by Detective James McLaughlin and another Keene police officer during pre-trial attempts to get her to alter her statements and planned testimony, to get her “to say what they wanted to hear.” What they wanted to hear was that Grover identified MacRae as the perpetrator of sexual abuse in his sessions with her as he claimed he did.
But it simply wasn’t true, Ms. Collett says today. She reports that during treatment Thomas Grover accused so many people of sexual abuse that “he appeared to be going for some sort of sexual abuse victim world record,” but he never accused MacRae. He did, however, accuse his adoptive father, an accusation that ex-wife Trina Ghedoni today confirms that Grover made. In regard to Father MacRae, Ghedoni adds that Grover “never said one word of abuse by MacRae in all the years we were together” until the prospect of money loomed.
Today, courts claim that procedure bars any of this from being heard, weighed, and considered. Prosecutors claim that the courageous people who have come forward with new information have dubious pasts of their own and didn’t come forward in time. So far, the judges seem to agree that procedural justice actually bars justice.
There are other crimes beyond claims of abuse alleged to have occurred here – crimes of larceny, witness tampering, bribery, and perjury – and unlike the charges of abuse against Father MacRae, there is evidence to support the commission of those crimes. Justice in the light of day requires a full and complete hearing by any means possible. Is the justice system now telling us that this is the only means left?
Editor’s Note: At this writing, we are informed that it is now necessary to appeal the Judge’s ruling denying a Certificate of Appealability. We are told that appeals at this level involve very fine points of law that must be argued. Therefore, we must extend our fundraising effort as this matter winds its way through the courts. Father MacRae is deeply grateful to readers for their generosity and spirit of justice. As this troubling case proceeds, there will be other costs, legal and otherwise. Should you wish to help or to continue assisting with the support of These Stone Walls, the PayPal link on TSW remains active. Please, see the CONTACT page on These Stone Walls for additional avenues of assistance, and for the address of Father MacRae’s legal fund. You may also help very greatly by sharing a link to the above post and this note. Thank you and God bless you.