Request for mistrial rejected in priest abuse case in Santa Fe

April 9, 2019

The defense attorney for a former Roman Catholic priest facing charges of child sexual abuse in U.S. District Court asked the judge to declare a mistrial Monday.

He didn’t get one.

The trial of Arthur Perrault, a former Albuquerque priest accused of sexually abusing a child in the 1990s, featured defense witnesses Monday, with closing arguments scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Santa Fe.

Perrault faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if he is convicted on aggravated sexual abuse charges and a 10-year maximum sentence on the count of abusive sexual contact, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Perrault’s attorney, Samuel Winder, argued that prosecutor Sean Sullivan improperly introduced evidence when he asked Perrault’s friend and former co-worker Dan Paulos if Paulos had ever visited Perrault in jail.

U.S. District Judge Martha Vásquez agreed the question “should not have been asked” but said it didn’t warrant halting the trial.

The judge pointed out jurors had already been told that Perrault had been “detained” in Morocco in 2017, on a warrant charging him with sexually abusing his accuser.

The judge told Sullivan to avoid any more questions that would reveal that Perrault is in federal custody.

Paulos — who worked with Perrault at St. Bernadette parish in Albuquerque in the early 1990s when the abuse allegedly occurred — confirmed under questioning Monday that another priest at the parish knew people in Morocco and had helped Perrault relocate there.

Paulos testified he did not want to see Perrault convicted of the crimes — the former priest faces six counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child and one count of abusive sexual contact — with which he is charged, but said he had not lied to the court on his friend’s behalf.

Perrault, 81, followed the proceedings with the aid of a listening device. During breaks he used a walker to shuffle in and out of the courtroom.

Winder also called Las Vegas, Nev.-based psychologist Dr. Mark J. Chambers to the stand in Perrault’s defense Monday.

Chambers — who said he was being paid $2,000 a day to testify — answered questions about “false memories,” telling jurors “sometimes people can remember things that did not happen at all.”

He said therapists can unwittingly create false memories in a patient by saying a patient is displaying symptoms indicative of child sexual abuse. Chambers said false allegations of sexual assault are more common in children or teenagers and are often motivated by someone trying to deflect attention from their own wrong doing, revenge or financial gain.

During his cross examination of Chambers, Sullivan asked the psychologist if there was any way to tell the difference between an actual memory and a false one.

“The general consensus is, no, we can’t tell the difference,” Chambers answered.

Winder rested his case following Chambers’ testimony Monday, ending the evidence part of the trial.

In 1965, when Perrault was a priest in Connecticut, church officials there accused him of sexual misconduct and sent him to the now-shuttered Servants of the Paraclete, a former treatment facility in Jemez Springs for Catholic priests, according to a 2016 civil complaint against Perrault.

Church officials later recommended he receive a permanent assignment in New Mexico, preferably at a school, according to the 2016 lawsuit.