In September 1989, 49-year-old Roger B. Norton was indicted by a grand jury in Hampden County, Massachusetts on charges of sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy.
The indictment alleged that Norton fondled the boy on several occasions in 1989, in the home of the boy’s younger cousin and in Norton’s camper.
Norton’s 11-year-old accuser went to police to report the abuse after he said he discovered his younger cousin crying inside Norton’s camper. The younger cousin was questioned and he said that he also had been indecently assaulted by Norton.
Norton had resigned in 1972 as the head of a Boy Scout Reservation in Russell, Massachusetts after he was accused of sexually abusing young boys. In 1973 he pleaded guilty to sex abuse charges and was sentenced to two years in prison.
After Norton was indicted in 1989, he fled the state. In April 1992, he was found living under a false name in Goodyear, Arizona, and arrested.
Following a pretrial hearing in Hampden County Superior Court, the trial judge ruled that the younger boy was not competent to testify because he refused to answer questions regarding where Norton had allegedly touched him. As a result, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts did not proceed on the indictment alleging that Norton indecently assaulted the younger boy.
Norton went on trial before a jury in the summer of 1992 on charges of indecently assaulted the 11-year-old boy.
The boy was the only witness to testify to the incidents at trial. He said that Norton grabbed his genitalia, without consent, at least three times. He also testified that Norton asked him to have sex on more than one occasion.
On August 14, 1992, the jury convicted Norton of three counts of indecent assault and battery on a child. He was sentenced to 16 to 20 years in prison.
In 1994, Norton was charged for an unrelated prior incident of sex abuse of a five-year-old boy. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four to six years to be served concurrently.
The conviction for the case involving the 11-year-old boy was upheld on appeal in 1996.
In 1997, Norton filed a post-conviction motion for a new trial, alleging that the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. The motion claimed that prior to trial, the younger boy and his mother told the prosecution that the younger boy had fabricated his allegations at the insistence of the 11-year-old boy, and that the 11-year-old boy had admitted to the younger boy that his allegations were also false.
The motion was denied in January 1998 without a hearing. In April 2000, after the decision was upheld on appeal, Norton filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
In March 2003, the U.S. District Court ruled that at a minimum, Norton was entitled to a hearing on the credibility of the affidavits. The court ruled that unless the Commonwealth requested a hearing by April 11, 2003, the writ would be granted and a new trial would be ordered.
On April 8, 2003, the Commonwealth filed a motion to reconsider and for the first time attached an affidavit from the trial prosecutor denying that the recantations occurred. The motion to reconsider was denied and no motion for a hearing was filed, so the writ of habeas corpus was granted. In October, 2003, the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the decision and in June 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari.
On May 6, 2005, the Commonwealth dismissed the charges and Norton was released.
– Maurice Possley