December 1997 featured article from TSA

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A Dunn Deal?

The Monsignor Louis Ward Dunn rape trials

August 8, and September 21, 1997, rallies against abuse of survivors in the judicial system of Rhode Island were held across from providence Superior Court on North Main Street in the public park. The first event consisted of about 25 marchers who walked in a large circle with signs to quietly but strongly protest. The ignition source for the protestors’ outrage was the decision by Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato to order a re-trial in the second of two criminal rape trials against Roman Catholic priest Monsignor Louis Ward Dunn.

The Rev. Dunn had been convicted of first degree rape, but Judge Fortunato - prompted by adulatory letters about the priest from his parish employees - second guessed his own guilty verdict and ordered that Dunn be re-tried. Dunn had chosen the wrong attorney to defend him, Fortunato opined. Alleging that character witnesses should have been called on Dunn’s behalf, Fortunato failed to mention that such a move would have opened the floodgates for the prosecution. prosecutors undoubtedly would have jumped at the opportunity to rebut defenders of Father Dunn’s character by presenting a barrage of Dunn’s sexual victims as prosecution witnesses. A week earlier, in Dunn’s first rape trial - concerning a different victim - Judge Fortunato had abruptly stopped the trial without allowing it to go to a jury.

The September 21 rally in providence grew to about 80 people and included speeches by survivors of physical and sexual assaults, and advocates for a reformed judicial system. Fortunato’s decision to overturn his own forcefully expressed guilty verdict in Dunn trial number 2 is thought to be without legal precedent in state history. Prompting further speculation about Fortunato’s sudden turnabout is that the judge himself had been so convinced at trial of the priest’s criminal actions that he had ordered him held without bail.

The judge’s decision to order a re-trial has been appealed by prosecutors to the state Supreme Court of Rhode Island. A petition was circulated, calling for Fortunato's removal.