April 13, 2013

Rapist's attorney may appeal 1979 conviction

Gary Irving, who hid for more than three decades in Gorham, submits a DNA sample, which a lawyer says could help prove his innocence.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

DEDHAM, Mass. – The attorney representing a convicted rapist who spent 34 years on the run before being captured in Gorham last month said he assumes his client is innocent and is considering appealing the 1979 conviction.

Gary Irving appears at Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham, Mass., on Friday.

AP

Gary Alan Irving, 52, originally of Rockland, Mass., appeared Friday in Norfolk County Superior Court, where a judge ordered that he remain held without bail until his May 23 sentencing.

Irving, who had been living quietly as Gregg Irving for three decades in Maine, wore a yellow jail shirt and blue pants and had his hands shackled in front of him during the brief hearing. He didn't speak.

After the hearing, his attorney, Neil Tassel, said he is still learning about Irving's case but said he is strongly considering appealing the original conviction.

"One of the most significant aspects of the case to me is that things were done very different (in 1979)," he said. "These were crimes that were very traumatic; they were terrible attacks that occurred. There is no question that they occurred, and there was a tremendous amount of pressure on authorities to clear those cases.

"But we now know in many other cases that people have been cleared by DNA."

Irving was convicted of raping three women in three towns on Massachusetts' South Shore during the summer of 1978, when he was 17. In each instance, Irving surprised girls who were walking or riding their bikes, forced them to a secluded area or inside his car and sexually assaulted them at knifepoint.

Police in the communities of Cohasset, Weymouth and Holbrook were stumped about the rapes until two girls who reported a similar attempted assault in September 1978 provided clues about the attacker: a partial license plate number that was traced to Irving's father and a blue-and-white graduation tassel that matched the Rockland High School colors. One of the rape victims, and later the other two, identified Irving from a high school yearbook photo.

He was convicted in June 1979 of three counts of rape and other charges, including kidnapping, and faced a lengthy prison sentence.

After his conviction but before sentencing, a judge allowed him to spend a weekend at his home in the custody of his father, a retired military man and auxiliary police officer. Irving fled, and hadn't been heard from until police learned he was living in Gorham with his wife of 32 years.

After receiving information about his whereabouts from a family member in Massachusetts, police arrested Irving on March 27 at his home in Gorham.

Police identified him in part by two scars on his back and chest from heart surgery he underwent as a boy. His wife and two grown children knew nothing of his past, police said.

Irving was held at the Cumberland County Jail until April 1, when he waived extradition and was taken to Massachusetts.

Before he was returned to jail Friday, Irving submitted a DNA sample, which will be put into a national database to see whether there are any matches for unsolved crimes.

Tassel said he believes the DNA sample might actually prove Irving's innocence.

"One of the things that strikes me is that crimes of this nature don't come out of thin air," he said. "There is no question that he has not committed any crimes in the past 35 years. It seems very unlikely to me that a person of his character could have committed these crimes and then suddenly lost any urge to commit these types of crimes."

Because of Irving's violent past, Maine police are combing through unsolved sexual assaults in Greater Portland to see whether Irving could have been involved. So far, there is nothing to indicate that he committed any other crimes, said Maine State Police Trooper Jeremy Forbes.

Irving could face more charges in Maine. When police searched his home after the arrest, they discovered 10 guns, including two sawed-off shotguns. As a convicted felon, Irving was not allowed to own guns. It's likely, though, that no charges would be filed until his Massachusetts case is resolved.

Judge Kenneth Fishman set a sentencing date of May 23 but also asked the defense and prosecution to report back for a status conference on April 26. One of the things that could hold up the case, Tassel said, is whether or not authorities can find the trial transcript from 1979.

Tassel said he has yet to have any lengthy conversations with his client but said, "He strikes me as a very gentle, kind individual."

"He's lived openly for 35 years in Maine," Tassel said. "He has a tremendous number of supporters in Gorham, Maine. Everyone in the community in Maine is astounded that this could possibly be the same person who stood trial back here so many years ago."

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be reached at 791-6344 or:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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