Judge takes second look at child rape case against former Milton Academy teacher

DEDHAM — The passage of time and the evidence needed to prosecute child rape years after the crime occurred.

Lawyers on both sides of a child rape case against a former Milton Academy teacher grappled Wednesday with legal questions surrounding those issues during a hearing in Norfolk Superior Court.

Hanging in the balance is the criminal prosecution of Reynold J. Buono, 73, who is accused of raping a 15-year-old student during tutoring sessions at his on-campus apartment in 1981 and 1982.

In December, Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Connors dismissed a six-count indictment against Buono, ruling that prosecutors don’t have the evidence required to corroborate the student’s account of the alleged crime. Such evidence is needed, Connors ruled, in child rape cases filed 27 years after the offense allegedly occurred.

Prosecutors argued that the Legislature didn’t intend for the law to be applied that way when it eliminated the statute of limitations in child rape cases more than a decade ago.

“The 2006 amendment to the statute of limitations has created an expectation among members of the public, victims, and indeed among the Legislature that the Commonwealth would be able to bring crimes like this long after the offense occurred,” said Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Marguerite T. Grant.

Buono’s lawyer, Inga Bernstein, strenuously disagreed, arguing that the law is clear: Prosecutors can bring child rape cases at any time, but if 27 years has lapsed between the alleged crime and an indictment, evidence to corroborate a victim’s account of an attack is required.

Prosecutors have argued that statements from Buono in which he acknowledged sexually abusing the teenager in Italy in 1981 constitute corroborating evidence. But Bernstein has objected to that interpretation, saying those remarks shouldn’t be considered because Buono wasn’t indicted for the alleged attack in Italy.

There is no provision in the law, Bernstein said, to stop the clock on the 27-year requirement. The time Buono spent living outside of Massachusetts would only become a factor if he were charged with a crime that is subject to a statute of limitations, she said.

“The Legislature and the court draw lines all the time. It’s a big part of what we’re doing,” Bernstein said. “If the Commonwealth doesn’t like where the line is in this case then their recourse is to say to the Legislature, ‘We don’t think this is right.’”

Buono, who was arrested in Thailand in June, sat between his lawyers during the hearing. He has pleaded not guilty and has been on house arrest since last summer. He also wears a GPS monitoring device.

In an interview published this week in the Globe , Jamie Forbes, 52, the former student Buono is accused of raping, said the passage of time shouldn’t be an impediment to prosecuting alleged child molesters.

While Forbes was still at Milton Academy, school officials were told that Buono had sexually abused him, prosecutors said in court papers. Buono was removed as Forbes’s academic adviser, prosecutors said, but kept his job until another student accused him of sexual assault.

Police interviewed Forbes in 2017 following an investigation by Milton Academy into past sex abuse of students. The investigation found Buono molested 18 students, the school has said.

Connors, who presided at the hearing, questioned why prosecutors didn’t raise concerns about how the 27-year requirement was applied in Buono’s case until after he dismissed the indictments.

The provision has already survived challenges brought in two earlier cases decided by the state Supreme Judicial Court, he said.

Despite that precedent, Connors said prosecutors highlighted an “extreme incongruity” in the law.

If Buono had been charged with raping an adult, the judge said, prosecutors wouldn’t be required to present evidence corroborating the victim’s story. Further, the time Buono spent outside of Massachusetts wouldn’t count toward the statute of limitations and the case would still be eligible for prosecution.

He took the matter under advisement and gave both sides until March 4 to submit further written arguments.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com.

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