CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – A jury on Thursday began deliberating the fate of defrocked priest Paul Shanley (search), who is charged with raping a boy at his church outside Boston in the 1980s.
The jury got the case after lawyers clashed over the validity of the repressed memories Shanley's accuser said came to him three years ago, when the Boston church abuse scandal broke.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for all of 30 minutes before the judge sent them home for the day. They were to return Friday.
The defense earlier presented a sole witness: a psychologist who argued that some people's repressed memories are really false.
Shanley's lawyer said the accuser's claims of sexual abuse were lies orchestrated by personal injury lawyers.
But prosecutor Lynn Rooney said the accuser had no reason to lie, particularly since he was required to endure three days of intense questioning on the witness stand.
School photographs of the accuser as a little boy were put on display as Rooney told jurors: "Remember what happened to him on those Sunday mornings."
The lone remaining accuser in the case, now a 27-year-old firefighter in a Boston suburb, testified Shanley began raping him while he was in the second grade, taking him out of Sunday school classes for discipline and raping him in the confessional.
He says memories of the abuse came flooding back three years ago after he heard a friend's account of similar abuse.
But Dr. Elizabeth Loftus (search), a psychologist from the University of California at Irvine, testified that her research shows people can wind up convinced that implanted ideas or suggestions are real.
"Many people who have false memories have a lot of confidence and have a lot of detail about their memories," Loftus said. "False memories can be held with a lot of emotion."
Loftus spent about two hours on the stand before Shanley's attorney, Frank Mondano, rested.
In his closing arguments, Mondano said the man contacted personal injury lawyers soon after he recovered his memories in February 2002. The attorneys filed a suit on his behalf three months later. The man received $500,000 in a settlement with the Boston Archdiocese (search) in May 2004.
"The core facts in this case are just not true," said attorney Frank Mondano.
Rooney said man received his civil settlement almost a year ago and had no reason to lie — especially given the fact that he had to endure more than 10 hours of graphic questioning on the witness stand last week. The man broke down and sobbed several times as he described the alleged abuse by Shanley.
"The emotions were raw. They were real. They were reflective of the pain he experienced," she said.
The trial is one of a handful of criminal cases that prosecutors have been able to bring against priests accused of molesting young parishioners decades ago.
Most of the priests accused in lawsuits avoided criminal prosecution because the alleged crimes were committed long ago, so charges were barred by the statute of limitations. But Shanley moved away from Massachusetts, stopping the clock and allowing authorities to arrest him in California in May 2002.
Archdiocese personnel records showed that church officials knew Shanley advocated sex between men and boys, yet continued to transfer him from parish to parish. He was defrocked by the Vatican last year.
He faces life in prison if convicted.