March 3, 2009
The Nation on Suppressed Memories
In a story that touches on both criminal and civil cases (and notes the financial influence of civil cases), The Nation this week gives a preview of the upcoming Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's appeal of Paul Shanley, convicted a few years ago in a sex abuse scandal largely on the basis of "recovered memories." The article is critical of the expert testimony and notes that most courts in more recent years have rejected similar evidence.
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Recovered Memory is almost unknown in my country Ireland. There has been ONE conviction in the history of the State based partly on RM. It was (naturally) that of a former nun Nora Wall (Sister Dominic of the Sisters of Mercy). In July 1999 she ALSO became the first person in our history to get a life sentence for rape. A few days later the case collapsed when the "victim" and her "witness" gave a paid newspaper interview in which their names were published for the first time. BOTH had a history of false allegations that had been concealed from the Defense but one of the "witness's" previous victims recognised her name and the Prosecution case then fell apart.
There was a THIRD unique feature about the Nora Wall case. She and her co-defendant Paul McCabe were originally accused of two rapes - one of which was alleged to have occurred on the victim's 12th birthday. McCabe was a homeless schizophrenic and the accuser no doubt assumed that he could not produce an alibi. By an extraordinary chance there WAS an official record of where he was on the day - and it was nowhere near the supposed rape site. The jury duly found the two accused innocent on that charge but convicted them on the other rape count - which did not specify an exact date.
If an alleged rape victim is exposed as a liar on one important issue, there is normally no way in which a jury will convict the accused. I am sure this is as true of an American jury as of an Irish one. Nora Wall was convicted because she had been a nun i.e. because of anti-clerical hatred that is no different from the anti-Semitic variety. Paul Shanley is a very different character but the reason for his conviction is the same.
The best account of Nora Wall's trial is an article in Studies magazine by Breda O'Brien (Winter 2006); "Miscarriage of Justice: Paul McCabe and Nora Wall" http://www.studiesirishreview.ie/j/page102
The Judgement of the Court of Criminal Appeal on D.P.P. v Nora Wall on 16 December 2005 is at
The following is an extract:
"It is now also accepted by the respondent that there had been significant non-disclosure in this case, including (a) the information that Regina Walsh had made, but not pursued, an allegation of being raped in England and (b) the non-disclosure of Regina Walsh’s very proximate and material psychiatric history. It seems to this court that the applicant was further prejudiced during the course of her trial by evidence of which the defence had no prior notification, namely, that Regina Walsh recalled the alleged episodes of rape by reference to ‘flashbacks and/or retrieved memory’. There was no scientific evidence of any sort adduced to explain the phenomenon of ‘flashbacks’ and/or ‘retrieved memory’, nor was the applicant in any position to meet such a case in the absence of prior notification thereof."
Posted by: Rory Connor | Apr 7, 2009 6:25:47 PM