SPRINGFIELD – Forty-nine years after 13-year-old Danny Croteau was left for dead on the banks of the ChicopÃ©e River, investigators seem poised to shut the book down on his murder.
Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni will announce on Monday a “significant development” in the 1972 case in which there was only one recognized suspect in nearly half a century of investigation – Defrocked Catholic priest and recognized pedophile Richard R. Lavigne, who died last week at the age of 80.
Gullini declined to comment on the development on Sunday, but said it “would bring the case to a close.”
Croteau’s body, face and head beaten by a blunt instrument, was found on April 15, 1972 along the banks of the river under the Robinson Bridge at Chicopee Falls. An autopsy showed he died of skull fractures and brain lacerations.
In the nearly 50 years since his murder, there have been allegations that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, then headed by Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, and church allies protected Lavigne’s prosecution. Over the past year, the diocese has found reports of Weldon himself a child molester to be credible.
Croteau was an altar boy at St. Catherine’s Church of Siena in Springfield, where Lavigne was assistant pastor.
Witness statements and records, unsealed by a 2004 state judicial Supreme Court ruling, revealed that while on a youth camping trip to Goshen years before the murder, Croteau threatened to denounce Lavigne as her sexual assailant, repeatedly saying, “I’ll say …!” I will sayâ¦ !”
Lavigne was observed at the scene of the crime after the discovery of Croteau’s body. His words immediately attracted suspicion from the police. “If a stone was used and thrown into the river, would there still be blood on it?” Lavigne asked one of the investigators at the scene.
Between 1966 and 1991, Lavigne was moved by the Diocese of Springfield to seven different parishes in the four western counties it comprises. He was pastor at St. Joseph’s Church in Shelburne Falls when he was arrested and is facing five separate trials involving five alleged victims of sexual abuse.
However, shortly before the start of a trial on June 25, 1992, Lavigne, who had denied all the allegations, pleaded guilty to two counts of alleged indecent assault and assault on a child. in the 1980s and in accordance with the law. limitations.
âI am sorry for the harm I have caused (to the victims) and I ask their forgiveness,â Lavigne told the court of the two boys he raped. “Regarding the other accusers: if I have harmed them in any way, I ask their forgiveness.”
As part of the arrangement reached in the judge’s chamber, prosecutors agreed to drop two charges of child rape and eight charges of molestation and not to investigate other cases of which they were aware. time.
Judge Guy Volterra refused to accept the recommendation of six months in prison, accusing the media of paying more attention to the case than he thought. He sentenced Lavigne to 10 years probation and seven months in a church-run treatment facility without jail time unless he violated probation, which ran until 2002. (The Registry Office of sex offenders classified Lavigne as a sex offender to be offended again in 2003.)
The diocese had removed Lavigne from the ministry at the time of his arrest. He would not be defrocked until a year after the end of his probationary period.
In 1993, a day after Lavigne’s release from St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland, 11 alleged victims, including a child, two nephews of the late District Attorney Matthew Ryan Jr. who had led the investigation into the murder of Croteau, and a cousin of the priest, stepped forward to claim that Lavigne had assaulted them.
The alleged assaults allegedly took place between 1967 and 1990 and allegedly occurred at a camp in Goshen, Arizona, a Canadian motel, Lavigne’s parents’ Chicopee home, the Springfield and Shelburne parsonages, and inside the church. Saint Catherine of Siena.
In 1994, the diocese contributed $ 1.4 million for the settlement of lawsuits against 17 of Lavigne’s alleged victims.
Lavigne was publicly identified as a suspect in Croteau’s death in 1994 when Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett launched an effort to link Lavigne to the murder through DNA testing. The effort failed and Bennett announced the case was closed.
In May 2004, the diocese signaled that it was ending financial support for Lavigne, who had been defrocked by the Vatican in November 2003.
Croteau’s parents, Carl and Bernice Croteau, died in 2010 and 2016, respectively, while waiting for their son’s murder to be resolved. In an interview two years before his death, Danny Croteau’s father told a reporter: âWe finally want answers.