Prosecutors last week asked a judge to reconsider a ruling dismissing child rape indictments against a former Milton Academy drama teacher who was arrested in Thailand last summer on allegations that he sexually assaulted a prep school student in the 1980s.
The criminal prosecution of Reynold J. Buono, 73, was dealt a major setback last month when Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Connors threw out the six-count indictment on the grounds that prosecutors hadn’t met the evidentiary threshold for child sex assault cases that fall outside the 27-year statute of limitations.
Buono is accused of attacking the 15-year-old boy during tutoring sessions at an on-campus apartment between Sept. 1, 1981, and July 7, 1982 — at least 35 years before a grand jury indicted him in 2017. He has pleaded not guilty and was placed on house arrest in mid-August after posting $50,000 bail. Buono must wear a GPS tracking device.
Prosecutors can bring child sex abuse charges for offenses that occurred more than 27 years prior to an indictment on the condition they present independent evidence to corroborate an alleged victim’s account of the crime.
In asking Connors to take a second look at his decision on Friday, prosecutors argued the case falls well within the statute of limitations because the approximately 30 years that Buono lived in Southeast Asia doesn’t count toward the time cap under state law.
Milton Academy fired Buono in 1987 after he admitted to sexually assaulting another teenage boy, and he moved abroad shortly thereafter, according to court papers. In 2017, an investigation commissioned by the school found Buono had molested at least 18 students during his 14-year tenure.
Failing to take Buono’s three decades in Southeast Asia into account would create a “nonsensical result,” the Norfolk district attorney’s office wrote, under the law that gave child victims of sex assault more time to report attacks.
“If the defendant had raped a 16-year-old and fled the jurisdiction for three decades, he could be prosecuted now without any corroboration requirement,” prosecutors wrote, referencing the age of consent in Massachusetts. Under state law, having sex with a person under age 16 is statutory rape.
“But because he raped a child, even though the statute of limitations never ran because he fled Massachusetts, the victim’s allegations are subjected to a corroboration requirement construed so stringently that even the defendant’s own admissions do not suffice,” the prosecutors wrote. “That cannot be what the Legislature intended when it amended [the law] to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assaults against children.”
In the same request, prosecutors asked Connors to reconsider his finding that comments Buono made in 1982 to the 15-year-old boy’s friend aren’t corroborating evidence.
A year earlier, the friend confronted Buono about sexually assaulting the 15-year-old boy during a bike trip to Venice, Italy, court papers show. Buono acknowledged what he did and promised not to do it again, prosecutors said. Buono is not being prosecuted for the alleged attack in Italy.
Prosecutors further asserted that in the spring of 1982, Buono pulled the friend aside and told him that “he had been dealing with his issues and that ‘it’ was not going to happen again,” court records show.
Buono’s second exchange with the friend, according to prosecutors, was an acknowledgment of sexual attacks on the 15-year-old boy that occurred following the Italy trip.
“There is no indication of what specific conduct Buono was referring to when he told the victim’s friend that ‘it’ was not going to happen again or what motivated Buono to make those comments at that time,” he wrote in his Dec. 26 decision.
A status conference is scheduled for Jan. 28 in Norfolk Superior Court. Defense attorney Inga S. Bernstein didn’t respond Friday to requests for comment.
In a separate request filed Friday, prosecutors asked Connors to petition the state Appeals Court to consider legal questions surrounding the requirement that child sex assault allegations be supported by independent corroborating evidence if they fall outside the 27-year statute of limitations.
In particular, prosecutors want the appellate panel to decide whether the admissions Buono made to the 15-year-old boy’s friend and Milton Academy’s headmaster about molesting students count as corroborating evidence.
The request notes “widely publicized news coverage of cases in which child victims delayed reporting sexual assaults for many years” and subsequent legislative reforms that eliminated statutes of limitations for such crimes.
“This has given rise to a widespread public perception that the Legislature and the courts are permitting prosecution of child sexual assault cases reported many years after the crime,” prosecutors wrote. “Prosecutors, defendants, and victims need clarity on whether a defendant’s admissions suffice to corroborate a victim’s account of a sexual assault.”