April 26, 2005

Desilets charged with 32 counts of abuse

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— The Rev. Paul M. Desilets was arraigned yesterday in Worcester Superior Court on 32 counts of abuse involving 18 boys in Bellingham in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rev. Desilets appeared via a video feed from the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction in West Boylston, where he is being held after his extradition from Canada last week. Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said there are security concerns in navigating the 81-year-old Rev. Desilets in a wheelchair through a crowded lockup, prompting the video feed. Rev. Desilets is said to be in poor health, suffering from diabetes and the effects of childhood polio.

Seated in front of one of his lawyers, Dennis J. Kelly, Rev. Desilets listened with his mouth open as Mr. Kelly told Judge Timothy S. Hillman his client was not prepared to enter a plea and requested the court enter a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

Rev. Desilets was arraigned on 16 counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, 10 counts of indecent assault and battery on a child over 14, and six counts of assault and battery.

Bail was set at $100,000 with conditions after a request by Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey T. Travers. Should Mr. Desilets post bail, he would be required to surrender his passport, wear an electronic monitoring bracelet under house arrest and waive rendition. Bail was set without prejudice, which means Mr. Desilets can request a reduced bail at a hearing scheduled for May 13. Lawyer Paul R. Mastrocola said his client is unlikely to make bail.

After the arraignment, one of Rev. Desilets’ alleged victims was asked to comment.

“He’s guilty. That’s the only comment I’ll make,” the man said.

At a press conference inside the courthouse, Mr. Conte said his office would try to negotiate a plea agreement with Rev. Desilets’ lawyers that includes jail time. His office has consulted with nine of the accusers and most are in agreement to proceed with such a negotiation.

“They feel there is a certain amount of closure in bringing Rev. Desilets back,” Mr. Conte said.

Rev. Desilets is accused of abusing 18 boys in Bellingham during his time as a priest at Our Lady of the Assumption. Mr. Conte said Rev. Desilets was assigned to the Bellingham parish from 1974 to 1984. He left for Canada in 1984, and was living in a retirement home in Joliet, Quebec, when Canadian police arrested him at the request of American officials in connection with the Worcester County indictments.

After his indictment by a Worcester grand jury in 2002, Rev. Desilets has fought his extradition in the courts, appealing to the Canadian Supreme Court to stop his extradition. He abandoned the appeal April 7, and was brought to Worcester Friday.

Mr. Conte said if Rev. Desilets had remained in the United States until the allegations were reported, his office would not have been able to prosecute successfully, because the alleged abuses were reported after the statute of limitations had expired. But when Rev. Desilets left the country in 1984, the statute of limitations time period was “tolled,” or suspended, until he returned to the United States.

“Once an individual leaves here, the statute actually stops running,” Mr. Conte said.

Bellingham Police Detective Richard Perry, who has handled the investigation since the first two victims reported the alleged abuse in January 2002, was asked to comment after Mr. Desilet’s arraignment yesterday.

“I’m happy, but I won’t be satisfied until this is completed,” Mr. Perry said.

Staff reporter Gary V. Murray contributed to this report.

Posted by kshaw at April 26, 2005 07:14 AM