February 03, 2005

Shanley defense to call just one witness

Boston Globe

By Joanna Weiss, Globe Staff | February 3, 2005

CAMBRIDGE -- When the child rape trial of defrocked priest Paul R. Shanley resumes today, the defense will call only one witness: a California professor who has built a long and prominent career out of debunking repressed memories.

Elizabeth Loftus has drawn both accolades and death threats, as well as a steady stream of legal consulting work, for her contention that false memories can be planted in susceptible minds.

She represents the debate at the core of the Shanley case: whether his accuser's 20-year-old memories are genuine or were suggested to him by personal-injury lawyers and the experts they hired.

Loftus's believers are drawn to her vivid descriptions and striking experiments; at the University of California-Irvine, where she teaches social ecology, she once persuaded some lab subjects, falsely, that they remembered hugging Bugs Bunny at Disneyland.

"Elizabeth Loftus has done a lot of research which helps us in understanding that not all of the repressed memory cases are legitimate," said Michael Avery, an evidence professor at Suffolk Law School.

But advocates of child abuse victims have long criticized Loftus's methods and her willingness to help certain defendants. David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, calls her "a hired gun for the defenders of child molesters."

And some mental-health specialists question whether her research, often done within the confines of a lab, bears weight in a highly charged case of child trauma.

Posted by kshaw at February 3, 2005 07:18 AM