MANCHESTER – It was Aug. 20, 1987. The prosecution asked the court to sentence 23-year-old Jeffrey Libby to 50 years for murdering his grandfather in a fit of rage. The judge, now deceased, sentenced him to 60 years, saying, “There is nothing in this case that can be seen as a mitigating circumstance.”

On April 23, 2010, the Maine Governor’s Board on Executive Clemency denied Libby’s petition for a clemency hearing despite a growing list of distinguished supporters. Guidelines for hearing a petition for commutation are that 50 percent of the sentence be served. Libby has served 24 years.

Unknown to the court at his sentencing but fully documented in the Petition to the Board on Executive Clemency was that Jeff was sexually abused by a Connecticut priest at ages 13 and 14. Forensic reports from distinguished psychologists in Maine and Connecticut clearly traced the sexual abuse to the murder nine years later.

Bear in mind that Libby is not in denial about his crime, nor is he asking for commutation. He seeks only a clemency hearing six years earlier than permissible because of extenuating circumstances surrounding his case. The power to grant that hearing resides with the governor.

Gov. John Baldacci, a practicing Catholic, is being petitioned by the Diocese of Portland to use his executive powers to grant that hearing.

Is sexual abuse a legitimate mitigating circumstance in a gruesome murder? More to the point, would the court in 1987 have recognized its impact without psychiatric testimony of the effects of clergy sexual abuse — data scarcely available at that time?

Canon lawyer, the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle of Vienna, Va., makes a strong case for benevolent action on behalf of Jeff Libby.

Doyle has met with thousands of victims of clergy sexual abuse in the past 26 years and has published two books and 10 scholarly articles on the causes and effects of clergy sexual abuse.

Among his findings was that “ approximately 35 percent of child/minor victims ever report the abuse, while the majority of victims are not able to report their abuse for 30 years after it takes place.” The reason is that the victims are controlled by fear and shame — immobilized and paralyzed from speaking out.

On Nov. 9, Doyle waded in on the Libby case after reviewing “extensive documentation” on his sexual abuse and on his petition for clemency.

He questions that the court would have been able in 1987 to understand the impact of the abuse without the massive amount of research that has been gathered since. That research has uncovered a consistent theme of “anti-social, violent and even criminal behavior by many of the victims.”

Adolescent Psychiatry, a publication for the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry and Analytic Press, published a study in 2004 of the effects of clergy sexual abuse on male victims.

On average, male victims waited 18 years before seeking psychological or legal help. Of 26 males studied, 85 percent were clinically depressed, 88 percent were involved with substance abuse, 55 percent showed symptoms of being suicidal, 54 percent showed signs of loss of spirituality, 73 percent showed symptoms of sexual dysfunction, including confusion over sexual orientation.

Rage is a common emotion experienced by men and boys who have been molested by clergy. Fantasies of killing their molesters, 50 percent of whom force themselves on their victims, routinely surfaced in the study. There is no path to healing for the victim. Relatives prefer to believe the church over their sons.

In 1987, at the time of Libby’s conviction, the church and the Vatican were spending fortunes defending themselves in court.

Children taught to believe that a priest is God’s emissary on earth would attribute the sexual abuse to a rejection by God and all other authority.

Libby, recently examined psychologically and found to be “well-adjusted, stable and ready for release,” in 2009 settled his civil suit against the Connecticut Archdiocese.

Jeff Libby is serving a just sentence for his crime as well as additional time for a priest who was not prosecuted.

For the state to fail to factor in so heinous a mitigating circumstance is to be complicit in the abuse.