Friday, February 11, 2011

Life in prison
Update: Ex-priest guilty, faces life in prison
Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Updated: 02/10/2011 03:00:58 PM EST

For more images from the Mercure trial, click here.

Thursday February 10, 2011

This article was updated at 2:50 p.m.

PITTSFIELD -- Today was judgment day for the Rev. Gary Mercure, who could spend the rest of his life in prison for raping two altar boys in the Berkshires in the 1980s.

It took less than two hours for a Berkshire Superior Court jury to reach its verdict, finding the 62-year-old Troy, N.Y., man guilty of three counts of forcible child rape and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child younger than 14.

The charges stem from separate crimes committed by Mercure in the Berkshires in 1986 and 1989, when he raped altar boys from his Queensbury, N.Y., church during outings in the Berkshires.

Mercure didn't flinch as Superior Court Clerk Deborah S. Capeless read aloud each of the jury's four guilty verdicts, one after the next. Court Officer Paul Duma then placed handcuffs on Mercure and took


him into custody.
Judge John A. Agostini ordered Mercure -- who was permanently removed from ministry by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany in 2008 -- to be held without bail at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction until he is sentenced Wednesday at 2 p.m. The trial began on Jan. 31.

Mercure, a small, dapper man with graying hair, cocked his head and smiled at his sister, who cried as the fallen priest was led away in handcuffs.

Defense Attorney Michael O. Jennings, of Springfield, had little to say about the case or his client while exiting the courtroom with co-counsel Robert DeLong, of Monson. Mercure will fight the conviction, according to Jennings.

"There will be an appeal," he said.

Jennings said he would not serve as Mercure's lawyer for the appeal.

Several of the priest's victims were in attendance today, and they remained virtually silent as the guilty verdicts were announced. Afterward, one of Mercure's victims had tears in his eyes as he made a call on his cell phone.

The victims were led out of the building by plainclothes Massachusetts State Police troopers and court officers, who prevented members of the media from approaching the victims.

Berkshire First Assistant District Attorney Paul J. Caccaviello, who prosecuted the case with help from Assistant District Attorney Marianne Shelvey, said the victims didn't wish to speak with a throng reporters crowding the courthouse hallway with television cameras and microphones.

"They're still processing this," Caccaviello said.

The prosecutor said Mercure's conviction should bring some closure to the victims, who remained mum about the abuse for more than 20 years.

"We're very gratified for that verdict," he said, calling the victims "heroes" for coming forward with their stories.

Asked how the victims were faring, Caccaviello replied, "Right now, there's a whole range of emotions."

The Berkshire District Attorney's Office hasn't yet formulated its sentencing recommendation, but Mercure could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

"He's been convicted of life felonies," Caccaviello said.

So much of the trial's testimony focused on individuals and events from New York, with only a fraction of the testimony pertaining to the Berkshire assaults.

"It presented difficult challenges," Caccaviello admitted.

Ultimately, however, the jury believed the five altar boys -- all from New York and now in their 30s -- who testified that Mercure sexually assaulted them numerous times over the course of years in New York. Two of those men also testified that Mercure raped them during car trips to the Berkshires, including a 1986 outing to a trailhead near the border of Great Barrington and Monterey and a 1989 trip to the former Brodie Mountain Ski Area in New Ashford.

"I think that the jury could tell that our two victims were credible," Caccaviello said.

Meanwhile, the Albany Diocese, which permanently removed Mercure from ministry in August 2008, issued a statement after the verdict that referred to Mercure's attacks on children as "sinful, criminal and reprehensible."

"Our hearts today are with the children who were abused, all now adults. We admire the strength and courage they demonstrated by coming forward. As devastating as their experiences must have been, they have shown by example that they are survivors -- strong, resilient and powerful," the statement said.

After receiving an abuse allegation against Mercure in early 2008, the diocese contacted the Warren County (N.Y.) District Attorney's Office, which was unable to prosecute Mercure due to the vintage of the allegations. Massachusetts has a statute of limitations that's more favorable to such prosecutions, however, and still could charge Mercure. In Massachusetts, the clock for the statute of limitations didn't start ticking until 2008, when Berkshire County authorities first learned of the abuse.

When the Albany Diocese permanently banned Mercure from ministry, it barred him from "functioning as or presenting himself as a priest."

"Prompt reporting of sexual abuse is essential to preventing it," the statement from the diocese said. Church officials said they're hopeful that the Mercure case might lead "other individuals who were sexually abused at any time to report the abuse immediately and seek assistance."

After the verdict, a member of the jury that decided Mercure's fate spoke briefly with reporters outside the courthouse. The woman, who declined to give her name or address, said she was "glad [she] served" on the panel and plans to attend next week's sentencing.

"Whatever the sentencing is, 100 times that wouldn't even scratch the surface for what he deserves," she said.

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