Church-state issue invoked in rape trial

Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2000

NASHUA, N.H. (AP) -- A man charged with molesting three girls argues that meetings where he discussed the accusations with his Jehovah's Witness elders were confidential and can't be used as evidence.

Gregory Blackstock, 45, of Hollis, faces eight counts of rape, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. He is scheduled to be tried in late January.

Before then, however, Judge Bernard Hampsey must determine whether church elders who met with Blackstock to discuss the accusations involving the sisters can be made to testify about their conversations.

By court rules and state law, church ministers can't be made to disclose confessions.

Hillsborough County Attorney Roger Chadwick argues that Blackstock's discussions with the elders does not qualify under the confessional privilege, because the elders also discussed Blackstock's statements with the girls' mother.

Blackstock and his lawyer, Richard Monteith, argue the meetings were confidential, and to intrude on that privacy violates his constitutional freedom to practice his religion.

''Our procedure is a biblical procedure, and it's designed to keep the congregation clean and to bring the wrongdoers to repentance. It is the tenet of our beliefs that everything is held in the strictest confidence,'' said Joseph Fuoco, an elder who has been subpoenaed to testify.

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