A former Keene priest convicted nearly two decades ago of sexually abusing four boys is seeking a new trial, claiming new statements from people close to one victim show he was after money when he made the accusations.
Gordon J. MacRae, 58, was convicted by a Cheshire County jury in September 1994 of five counts of sexual assault against a 15-year-old boy during the summer of 1983 in the rectory of St. Bernard’s Church in Keene, while MacRae was a Roman Catholic priest there.
A month later, MacRae avoided more slated trials by pleading guilty to three additional counts of sexual assault — one count each involving three other boys, including a boy who said he was 12 years old when MacRae fondled him in the rectory of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Hampton.
In the Keene trial case, MacRae received the maximum sentence — 331/2 to 67 years in prison — meaning he wouldn’t be eligible to seek release until 2028, when he’d be 74 years old.
Now, attorneys for MacRae have filed a motion requesting a new trial in that case, claiming new statements from people close to the victim, who was 26 years old at the time of the trial, call the charges into question. The Sentinel does not identify victims of sexual assault.
In the 50-page motion, MacRae’s attorneys, Robert Rosenthal of New York City and Cathy J. Green of Manchester, claim that the victim told friends and family members before and after the trial that he was lying about the sexual assaults.
He received nearly $200,000 stemming from a lawsuit against the church, according to the motion.
Among dozens of letters filed in support of the motion for a new trial are two from the victim’s ex-wife and her son, who claims that the victim told him he’d never been molested by MacRae.
Rosenthal and Green also argue that MacRae’s trial was “marked by actions and inaction of defense counsel that not only undermined the defense, but served the state, and assured the conviction.”
This isn’t the first time attorneys for MacRae have attempted to cast doubt on the credibility of his accuser and it isn’t the first time the former priest has tried to fight his conviction following the trial.
During the 10-day trial in 1994, the victim’s character and past actions — including his juvenile criminal record — were questioned by MacRae’s attorney, leading the victim at one point to sob and hyperventilate on the witness stand during his testimony, according to a report at the time in The Sentinel.
The victim, whose two brothers also accused MacRae of sexual assault in a lawsuit against the church, testified during the trial that the former priest gave him alcohol during counseling sessions and used his position to take advantage of the boy’s vulnerability during his parents’ divorce.
After MacRae’s conviction, the victim’s family called the trial traumatic and said they felt the defense attorney had tried to vilify the victim, according to a Sentinel report.
Some jurors told The Sentinel after the trial that they were surprised they were not told that MacRae had pleaded guilty in 1988 to endangering the welfare of a child for offering to pay a boy for sex in Keene.
At the end of a three-day sentencing hearing in November 1994, former Superior Court Judge Arthur D. Brennan shook with anger and said MacRae’s actions “scorned the most fundamental teachings of the religion (he) stood for,” according to a Sentinel report.
A year after the trial, attorneys for MacRae filed an appeal with the N.H. Supreme Court, which upheld the conviction.
In 2005, the Concord Monitor reported that MacRae planned to file an appeal in federal court after a Tennessee attorney reviewing his case said he believed the constitutionality of the trial and the length of MacRae’s sentence could be disputed. That same year, a pair of Wall Street Journal columns — cited in MacRae’s latest attempt seeking a new trial — argued that the former priest had been wrongly convicted.
Casey Farrar can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or email@example.com.