ALFRED, Maine — A former Boston priest was found guilty Thursday of sexually abusing a boy during trips to Maine in the 1980s.
Ronald Paquin, 76, was convicted of 11 of 24 counts of gross sexual misconduct. He was found not guilty of similar charges related to a second boy. Now grown men, both accusers testified in sometimes graphic detail during the three-day trial. A York County jury deliberated for nearly five fours Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
Paquin was one of the priests exposed in the early 2000s by a sweeping Boston Globe investigation into clergy sex abuse. He served more than a decade in prison in Massachusetts for repeatedly raping an altar boy between 1989 and 1992, beginning when the victim was 12.
His trial is believed to be the first in Maine for a priest embroiled in the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal, and he now faces prison time again as an elderly man for his conviction. The former clergyman did not react as the jury forewoman announced the split verdict in a quiet but firm voice. Superior Court Justice Wayne Douglas did not yet set a date for sentencing.
Keith Townsend, 44, of Seabrook, N.H., has publicly identified himself as the victim who first reported Paquin to Maine authorities. He sat in the courtroom Thursday morning with his wife and a victim’s advocate, and he wiped tears from his face when he heard the verdict that vindicated him. Outside the courtroom, he remembered the way “guilty” rang out in the courtroom repeatedly as the clerk polled the jury.
“It’s a fitting end,” Townsend said. “The more the defendant kept hearing it, the more it drove it home. Having him sit there and hear it over and over and over, that’s justice.”
Townsend said he spoke up for other victims he knew who could not because they are dead — killed in drunk driving accidents or by overdoses. He said he has gotten the help he needs to move forward with his own life.
“I kind of think of Paquin like cancer,” he said. “It’s something I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life.”
The other man who testified against Paquin has not been publicly identified and was not present for the verdict.
The prosecutors — Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan and Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Heimbach — spoke to reporters briefly outside the courthouse. They thanked the jury for their work and said they are grateful for the guilty verdicts that had been delivered, decades after the crimes.
“The number of years may limit what type of evidence exists and what is possible to put in front of a jury, but the truth exists no matter what,” Heimbach said.
They also said they still believe the testimony of the second man who accused Paquin but did not see a conviction.
“We believe his truth that he spoke in the courtroom,” Heimbach said. “We cannot imagine what it took to do that. That’s a courage that very few people in this world have. We wish it could be different, but we’re grateful.”
Paquin’s two court-appointed attorneys — defense lawyers Roger Champagne and Valerie Randall — said they plan to challenge the guilty verdicts. Randall said they would eventually file post-trial motions to overturn the verdict or request a new trial, and if they are unsuccessful, they would then file an appeal. They would build those motions upon concerns they raised before and during trial, she said — the prosecution’s use of an expert witness, evidence about similar conduct in Massachusetts and the broad nature of the charges themselves.
“These broad charges that are nonspecific and spanning large periods of time violate Mr. Paquin’s due process rights,” she said. “I think it calls into question whether the jury in fact could have unanimously found that he committed this offense.”
Champagne also said he wants the former priest to undergo a medical evaluation before sentencing. Court documents have suggested Paquin is in poor health. Outside the courtroom, reporters asked him how Paquin was responding to the jury’s decision.
“Very stoic,” he said. “Very quiet.”
The jury of five women and seven men had listened to the pained testimony of the two accusers on Monday and Tuesday. The charges covered the period of time between 1985 and 1988.
Both men said Paquin befriended them when they were young altar boys in their Haverhill, Mass., parish. They said he took them out for meals and on trips, including to a motel and campground in Kennebunkport where Paquin had a trailer. The former priest gave them alcohol like beer and wine coolers, they told the jury, and he let them drive his car without a license.
Townsend told the jury this week that the abuse began when he was 8 or 9 years old, when he recalls sitting on Paquin’s lap and learning to drive his car through Massachusetts cemeteries.
On the witness stand, Townsend described his memory of one night in particular when Paquin gave him a drink made with Tanqueray gin and, he believes, prescription drugs. He told the jury about the way Paquin touched him that night and the pain in his rectum the next morning that later led him to believe he had been sexually assaulted.
“I can still taste that drink today,” Townsend said.
The jury considered 11 counts of gross sexual misconduct in which Townsend was the victim. Those charges specified that Paquin engaged in a sexual act with Townsend when he was younger than 14 years old, and the jury returned a guilty verdict on all of them.
The other man described similar experiences with Paquin. He has not been publicly identified, and the Portland Press Herald does not name alleged victims of sex crimes without their consent.
The man said the former priest told him dirty jokes that progressed to physical contact when he was as young as 12 or 13 years old. On visits to Maine, Paquin would urge the boy to perform oral sex and other sex acts on him, and then Paquin would perform those acts on the boy.
Paquin used his parents’ divorce to manipulate him, the man told the jury. His hands shook as he sat on the witness stand.
“He told me no one would care for me as he does,” the man told the jury.
But the 13 charges the jury considered in his case were slightly differently. They specifically alleged that the former priest used alcohol to “substantially impair” the boy involved. This requirement seemed to be a concern for the jury, which asked the court reporter on Thursday morning to read back all of that man’s testimony related to alcohol.
He had described the way Paquin would make beer and wine coolers available to him whenever he wanted. But he had some difficulty articulating how those drinks made him feel, saying it was “different than your everyday experience” and made him “more relaxed.”
In closing statements, the defense team told the jury the evidence was too vague to warrant a conviction, especially on those counts. They had tried unsuccessfully to have those charges dismissed earlier in the trial.
“There was no testimony suggesting Mr. Paquin was forcing alcohol upon him,” Randall said.
The jury returned a verdict of not guilty on those 13 counts.
During the trial, the prosecution also called witnesses who worked at or visited the Kennebunkport campground. They told the jury they had often seen young boys there with Paquin, although none of them said they had noticed anything inappropriate. One woman said she once wondered aloud to another couple in the campground why the boys stayed in the trailer on a hot summer day instead of going to the nearby beach or pool. They told her the boys liked to stay inside and play Monopoly.
“They said Father Ron just likes to take these boys out of the inner city and give them a vacation,” said Sheila Renda, of Framingham, Mass.
The final witness was an expert who talked about delayed disclosure. Kathy Harvey Brown, a clinical social worker who is the coordinator of the Cumberland County Child Advocacy Center, said research shows men usually wait years to report sex abuse from their childhoods.
The defense team did not call any witnesses.
During closing arguments, Champagne told the jury that most of the testimony was “fluff” to distract from the general lack of physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that places these specific boys in Maine in the 1980s.
“The testimony from these two accusers can be compelling, but I don’t know how persuasive it is without something else,” he said. “Does it rise to proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I submit to you that it does not.”
Heimbach addressed that question in his rebuttal.
“The state submits to you, the answer is yes, it can,” he said. “As I said to you before, the testimony of a victim of gross sexual misconduct alone — that one victim — if it is not so contradictory, unreasonable, incredible or so lacking in common sense, can serve to establish every element of the offense regarding that victim beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The jury never heard the former priest speak. He decided not to testify in his own defense, so they also never learned about his prior conviction.
Paquin pleaded guilty in 2002 in Massachusetts to raping an altar boy between 1989 and 1992, beginning when the victim was 12. He was defrocked in 2004 and imprisoned until 2015, when specialists said he no longer met the criteria to be considered sexually dangerous.
Less than two years later, he was indicted on 29 counts of gross sexual misconduct in York County. Prosecutors later added two more counts, bringing the total to 31. Seven were then dismissed during the trial. Paquin was believed to be living in a Boston homeless shelter when he was arrested in February 2017. He has been in custody at the York County Jail ever since.
The Globe reported that Paquin admitted to medical evaluators that he abused at least 14 boys and said he was also abused as a child. Other allegations against him have prompted civil settlements, but no other criminal convictions.
In Maine, charges against Paquin and one other Catholic priest have been possible because the statute of limitations for such crimes against a child younger than 16 was eliminated in 1999 — as long as it has not already expired.
In September, former Maine priest and Cheverus High School teacher James Talbot pleaded guilty in Cumberland County Superior Court to sexually assaulting a Freeport boy in the 1990s. Talbot, 81, was ordered to serve three years in prison. The full sentence on a charge of gross sexual assault was for 10 years, with all but three years suspended. Talbot also received a concurrent sentence of three years for unlawful sexual contact. He had also been convicted once before in Massachusetts and served six years in prison.
Follow Megan Gray on Twitter @mainemegan.