February 18, 2005

Loftus’ Luster Lost

Orance County Weekly


For years, attorneys for the damned have called upon UC Irvine Professor Elizabeth Loftus to save their clients’ asses. And save asses she did—Loftus signed on with numerous defense teams and earned a reputation as an academic get-out-of-jail-free card. Her job: share with jurors her controversial research that argues memory can be manipulated, that sexual abuse isn’t something that the human mind can merely seal into some dark crevasse, that repressed memories are—as her most-famous book states—a “myth.”

More often than not, individuals who hired Loftus successfully fought off criminal and civil cases. A short list includes the McMartin Preschool folks, professors accused of bio-terrorism and scads of dads suspected of raping their daughters. But her tenure as a star defense witness may be over. On Feb. 7, a jury in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, found Loftus’ most-recent client, former priest Paul Shanley, guilty on two counts of child rape and two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14. Last week, Shanley received his sentence: 10 to 15 years in prison.

The Shanley case gained worldwide attention, primarily because prosecutors offered no hard evidence of molestation. The Middlesex County district attorney’s office instead relied solely on the testimony of a victim, now 27, who claimed to have repressed memories of his abuse at the hands of Shanley until three years ago.

Shanley’s attorney, Frank Mondano, derided the victim’s story, maintaining during opening statements on Jan. 26 that “the simple truth is that [the accuser’s] story is not reliable.” Mondano was so confident jurors would accept his arguments against repressed memories that the lawyer called but one witness: Loftus.

During her two-hour testimony on Feb. 4, Loftus told jurors the same theme she’s repeated in courtrooms across the country. “I don’t believe there is any credible scientific evidence that years of brutalization can be massively repressed,” she told Mondano. But Middlesex prosecutors were ready for this.

Posted by kshaw at February 18, 2005 04:25 AM