Home > Uncategorized > Trial in alleged assault of intellectually disabled man is put off again

Trial in alleged assault of intellectually disabled man is put off again

Today (Tuesday) marked the fifth time Sheila Paquette has traveled from her home in western Massachusetts to Cape Cod to seek justice in the alleged assault of her brother, John Burns, an intellectually disabled resident of a group home in West Springfield.

But Paquette learned today she will have to make yet another trip to the Cape, along with David V., another resident of Burns’ group home, and Dan Aguda, a Department of Developmental Services instructor.  The three were scheduled to testify today in Falmouth District Court in the trial of John Saunders, a former resident of Burns’ group home, who is charged with assaulting Burns during an outing on the Cape in June 2010.

As Paquette and the others sat in the courtroom all morning on Tuesday waiting for the proceedings to finally begin, the judge at the last moment postponed the trial until June 4 because a defense witness had failed to appear.  Paquette, who is president of the Advocacy Network, a COFAR member organization, was visibly shaken by the sudden decision.

Sheila Paquette (left) in front of Falmouth District Court Tuesday after the trial of the man accused of assaulting her brother, John Burns, was postponed yet again. To Paquette's right are Dan Aguda, a DDS instructor in John Burns' day program; Deborah Reid, the house manager in Burns' group home; David V., a resident of the group home; and Ed Strout, a Board member of the Advocacy Network, a COFAR member organization.

“I can’t believe this is happening again,” Paquette said to Assistant District Attorney Kerry Whalen.  “I’ve come down here five times, and every time there’s another delay.”

“It’s been almost two years (since the alleged assault),” Aguda added. “Memories will start to fade in terms of testifying.”

Whalen tried to reassure them and said she believes the trial will go forward on June 4.  The judge, she said, will not grant another continuance to the defense witness.

Paquette isn’t convinced of that, but she and the other prosecution witnesses are prepared to travel to Falmouth again in June.  “Anyone who assaults the intellectually disabled should know that these cases will be pursued,” she said.

The last time Paquette and the group from western Massachusetts were in court on the Cape was January 9, when Saunders’ trial was first scheduled.  But Saunders himself was a no-show that day.  

Saunders was reportedly arrested by police a couple of days after the January trial date and was released after posting bond that had been set by the judge at $1,000.  The Falmouth District Attorney’s Office stated that it had requested a $5,000 bond for Saunders.  He was present in the courtroom on Tuesday.

Paquette personally filed assault charges against Saunders in July 2010 after she became frustrated with the slow pace of state and law enforcement authorities in investigating the case.   The Center for Human Development, a nonprofit firm that contracts with the state Department of Developmental Services to operate the group home in which Saunders worked, subsequently fired Saunders.

Saunders allegedly hit Burns in the face while toileting him during a vacation outing on the Cape for residents of the group home.  Burns suffered two black eyes and other injuries.  In recent months, Burns has been confined to a wheelchair.  Paquette says she was told by her brother’s neurologist he has a neck injury typical of serious whiplash.

Saunders has denied assaulting Burns.  The Disabled Persons Protection Commission concluded there was reasonable cause to believe Saunders had used excessive force and had physically assaulted Burns. 

The DPPC also recommended that Saunders no longer be permitted to work with DDS clients and cited the CHD group home for failing to identify Burns’ injuries before sending him to his day program the morning after the alleged assault.

  1. Nancy Lucchetti
    March 27, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    I can not beleave at this time and age we have not got any further to beleave that all Gods children have feelings and rights. Rights to not be treated less than animals.


  2. Marie Burchfield
    March 27, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Is there a way to find out why this judge is postponing the hearing? Two years is a very long time for justice to be ignored. Especially in this state. Illegal aliens get their cases heard in fast time, and even get their illegal licences returned to them following their “sentences.” This is our “justice” system.


  3. Interested
    March 28, 2012 at 1:09 am

    I have no idea about this kind of trial process, but I was wondering if this is how the trial process typically goes. Does it always take 2 years only to have to show up again?

    I do know from personal experience that things can easily be “fast tracked” (not that it is happening hear, sounds like the exact opposite–maybe hoping memories will fade).

    Won’t say who I am, other than I am a Fernald guardian. Appealed a transfer to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA). Before I ventured into DALA, I poked around on line and came across a report by the then new chief of DALA. In that report he indicated there was a backlog of 4000 cases. Guess what, appealed the transfer in August and miraculously had a pre-hearing conference in mid-September. I don’t think it too great of a stretch to figure how or why I leaped ahead of the 4000 cases waiting for a hearing. I know of people in other matters that waited for more than a year just to get to a pre-hearing conference.


  4. mzanger
    March 28, 2012 at 1:56 am

    This kind of delay is familiar to me from when COFAR was involved in supporting a man with developmental disability who was repeatedly abducted and gang-raped in Fall River, several times while two of the rapists were out on low or no bail after being arrested and charged. One major obstacle was stigma, in that prosecutors doubted that a case could be made on the testimony of a complainant witness with moderate mental retardation. Eventually, thanks to the determination of his family to seek justice, and an observant direct care worker who was able to identify one of the rapists stalking the victim-witness, bail was revoked. And when the cases went to trial, nearly two years after the last known incident and three years after the first arrest, two juries believed the testimony of the victim witness against that of a variety of defense witnesses including local police who had failed to take the original report, and a DD provider which had underestimated the danger and failed to note warnings from the family. Only later did we learn that in mock trail research in Chicago, jurors had shown a greater tendency to believe witness testimony when they were told that the witness (an actor for the mock trial) had intellectual disability. So sometimes ordinary citizens have more sense than prosecutors and police, realizing that just because someone has developmental disability, they do not necessarily lack honesty, courage, or character, and might be *less* likely to give false testimony that a typically developed person.


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