ALFRED — A rare trial tied to the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal is set to begin next week in York County.

A jury was selected Monday afternoon at the Alfred courthouse for Ronald Paquin, a former priest from Massachusetts. He was a key figure in the Boston priest sex abuse scandal in the early 2000s and pleaded guilty in 2002 to repeatedly raping an altar boy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Paquin was jailed in Massachusetts until 2015, when specialists said he no longer met the criteria to be considered sexually dangerous.

Now 76, Paquin is facing charges in Maine for the first time. He was indicted in February 2017 on 29 counts of gross sexual misconduct for allegedly abusing two boys during trips to Kennebunk in the 1980s. Prosecutors later added two more charges, bringing the total to 31. Paquin has pleaded not guilty.

He has been in custody at the York County Jail since he was arrested last year. The judge agreed with the state’s request for a “no third-party” bail at Paquin’s arraignment, meaning his $50,000 bail would have to come from Paquin’s own funds and could not be posted for him by someone else.

The trial could be the first in Maine for a priest embroiled in the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

Superior Court Justice Wayne Douglas and attorneys spent nearly eight hours Monday picking the jury from a pool of roughly 100 people, keeping the courthouse open well beyond its usual closing time because of the pending snowstorm Tuesday. They questioned dozens of people individually about their knowledge of the church’s broader turmoil and their ability to be fair and impartial jurors. They asked potential jurors if they had seen the film “Spotlight,” which tells the story of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. Paquin’s case was one of those featured in the movie.

While many jurors said they had heard or seen news coverage of this issue, few knew specific names or stories. Several people said they had seen recent stories about Bishop Richard J. Malone, who was formerly the head of the diocese in Maine. Malone is facing mounting pressure to resign from his current post in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, over his handling of sexual abuse allegations against clergy. Others said they were familiar with the early years of the scandal in Boston or the recent similar reports in Philadelphia. Few had seen “Spotlight” or regularly read the Boston Globe.

Randall Bates, left, represented Ronald Paquin last year in Biddeford District Court during Paquin’s initial hearing on 29 charges of sexual assault on two boys in the 1980s. Nine months later, prosecutors added two more charges. Staff photo by Edward D. Murphy/Staff Writer

The majority of people said they could set aside their prior knowledge in order to be fair and impartial jurors in this case.

“I can compartmentalize it,” one woman said.

But some said they could not. Roger Champagne, one of the defense attorneys representing Paquin, asked one jury candidate if he remembered the plot of “Spotlight.”

“Vaguely,” the man said. “The deception went pretty high up the ladder in the Catholic Church.”

The man then admitted his knowledge of the broader scandal made him more likely to believe Paquin was guilty. The judge immediately removed him from the jury pool and called the next number. Later, when 16 people had been chosen to serve as jurors and alternates, Douglas included in his instructions a ban on watching “Spotlight” before or during the trial.

Valerie Randall, who also is representing Paquin, said the defense team tried hard to weed out people who could be biased against Paquin by their knowledge of similar cases involving priests.

“Mr. Paquin has asserted his innocence, and he has a right to a fair trial,” Randall said. “At this point, the burden rests on the state.”

York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery declined to comment on the pending case.

Court documents have indicated that Paquin is in poor health. He came to jury selection, wearing a pair of khaki pants, a button-down shirt and a vest. He listened quietly to the exchanges during the long afternoon, sipping water from a paper cup. He did not speak, and it is not clear if he will testify next week.

Earlier this year, on the day his own jury selection was supposed to begin, former Maine priest and Cheverus High School teacher James Talbot pleaded guilty in Cumberland County Superior Court to sexually assaulting a Freeport boy in the 1990s. Talbot, 80, was ordered to serve three years in prison. The full sentence on a charge of gross sexual assault was for 10 years, with all but three years suspended. He also received a concurrent sentence of three years for unlawful sexual contact. He had also been convicted once before in Massachusetts and served six years in prison.

For both Talbot and Paquin, prosecution was possible because Maine’s statute of limitations for such crimes against a child younger than 16 was eliminated in 1999 – as long as the statute of limitations had not already expired.

Before Talbot pleaded guilty, legal experts said a trial would have been challenging in the context of the broader sex abuse scandal because jurors are not supposed to have prior knowledge of a case or past experiences that could create bias.

At Talbot’s sentencing in September, Superior Court Chief Justice Roland Cole said he took the unusual step of meeting with the attorneys to talk about the potential difficulties of jury selection in this case.

“There’s no question that we would have had a great deal of difficulty because of the various factors involving this defendant’s particular case and factors outside of his control, in regard to recent reporting both nationally and internationally of issues with the Catholic Church and priests committing criminal acts,” Cole said.

Paquin’s trial is scheduled to begin Monday and could last all week.

Megan Gray can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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