Jury in Santa Fe to start deliberations in sex abuse case involving ex-priest
Jurors are scheduled to begin deliberations Wednesday in the child sex abuse case against Arthur Perrault, a former Roman Catholic priest who was extradited from Morocco to stand trial in New Mexico.
The jury in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe on Tuesday heard closing arguments in the case, in which Perrault is accused of raping a 10-year-old altar boy between 1991 and 1992 while working as a priest at St. Bernadette’s parish in Albuquerque.
Perrault has been accused of similar behavior by dozens of others over the years and was ordered by a federal judge in 2017 to pay $16 million in a civil case.
According to testimony during the trial, Perrault moved to Morocco in 1992, where he was located last year by FBI agents.
The FBI became involved in the case because Perrault’s alleged abuse of the boy took place at Kirtland Air Force Base and at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, both federal properties.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Sean J. Sullivan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office emphasized Perrault’s reputation as a known child molester.
Sullivan reminded jurors that Perrault admitted to the FBI agent who transported him back to the United States — and who testified during the trial — that he had sexually abused at least one other boy and had written a letter to the King of Morcco admitting to abusing teenagers in the past.
He also mentioned that seven other witnesses who testified at Perrault’s trial said they had been abused by the former priest and noted similarities between their stories and the one told by the accuser in the case.
Sullivan acknowledged that the accuser in this case — like several of the witnesses— got a multimillion-dollar award as a result of civil litigation against Perrault but said that did not make his story untrue.
“You can’t go to court and get your childhood back; you can’t get your innocence back,” Sullivan said. “All you can do is go to court and ask for money.”
Sullivan said Perrault — who was a priest in Connecticut before being sent to a now-closed New Mexico treatment center for Catholic priests in 1965 — was a “serial child molester who would not stop.”
“The question isn’t ‘Was he abusing someone in the 1990s?’ ” Sullivan said, “but who?”
Sullivan said Perrault moved to Morocco in the 1990s — leaving behind a long career with the church and the military in New Mexico — to avoid facing the charges in this case.
“He fled to escape justice because he knew he was guilty,” the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Samuel L. Winder said during his closing argument that “This case is about money and an investigation that is wound around allegations of abuse that have occurred in the Catholic Church.”
Winder emphasized inconsistencies surrounding times and dates on the part of the prosecution’s witnesses and the fact that many of Perrault’s accusers never went to police or told their parents of the abuse.
Winder also asked jurors to ask themselves why Perrault would have molested the boy at the military base or the cemetery when he had other options.
“If a person is going to abuse a child, why go to a public place?,” Winder said. “Why not go to a condo? Why not go somewhere private?”
The defense attorney also picked at conflicting testimony with regard to exactly where Perrault is alleged to have molested the child at St. Bernadette parish.
Winder said the accuser said it happened in a bed in a room in the parish offices [now the rectory] but that Perrault’s “spiritual friend,” Dan Paulos, who still works at the parish, testified there was never a bed in that particular room.
Winder reminded the nine women and three men on the jury that Dan Paulos had provided artwork for a book by Mother Teresa and if they were going to question the word of Paulos “you might as well disparage Mother Teresa.”
During his rebuttal argument, Sullivan told jurors to focus on the evidence and not to be “distracted” by the “smokescreen” being thrown up by Winder.