injusticebusters logo

The Bourgelais case is important, because it is another attempt by true believers in the validity of repressed and recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse to test the validity of the Hungerford decision in New Hampshire which disallowed cases based on repressed memories unless certain criteria were met. -- Adriaan Mak

Phil Bourgelais

Repressed memories rejected

BRENTWOOD - For Rhianna Light, it's over.

Rhianna and Stacey Light

Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Tina Nadeau recently ruled that Light's father, Phillip Bourgelais of Exeter, will not stand trial for allegedly sexually abusing his daughter between the ages of 6 and 7 based on her recovered memories. Light, now 18, claims that she began recalling suppressed memories of sexual abuse in 2001, first only in fragments, and later in full memories.

The court's decision was handed down April 5 following an evidentiary hearing that began last summer and concluded, after numerous continuations, on March 10.

"After a six-day evidentiary hearing during which the court considered expert testimony, the state's motion is denied and the court precludes the state from introducing the victim's testimony," the court order stated.

A New Hampshire state law, known as the Hungerford Law, prevents repressed and recovered memories from being admitted in court unless eight criteria are met. Four of the criteria concern the reliability of the science, and four are specific to the individual whose memories are in question - having to do with the age of the accuser when the alleged abuse took place, specific circumstances surrounding the abuse and the recovery process of the memories.

The court order stated, "The memories in this case do not rise to such a level that they overcome the divisive state of the scientific debates on the issue."

The court went on to cite five reasons for its decision: the fact that Light was "engaged in psychological counseling consistently from the time she was 4 years old through the present," the fact that the disclosures were made during a "heated custody battle," Light's age at the time the events allegedly occurred, the fact that the assistant county attorney requested Light attempt to retrieve more-specific memories of abuse, and the fact that "the court can find no corroboration for the alleged abuse."

The judge's ruling went on to explain that "the court must apply the standard articulated in Hungerford. In so doing, the court cannot conclude that the phenomenon of repressed memory recovery has yet been scientifically accepted, ... nor can the court find sufficient indicia of reliability present in the particular memories here to allow their admission into evidence.

"The court does not mean to suggest that Rhianna has fabricated the memories of the abuse," the order continued. "On the contrary, it is apparent that she genuinely believes the abuse occurred. Rather ... based on the law and evidence, the reliability of memory retrieval has not been sufficiently established to allow the introduction of Rhianna's memories here."

In a prepared statement, Light said: "It's hard to say how I feel about it. There are so many different emotions. Am I hurt? Yes. Angry? Yes. Sad? Yes. Confused? Absolutely. All I can say is that I took it as far as I could. I didn't give up or give in, neither did my friends and family who stood by me the whole way through. I am very disappointed in the ruling of this case; however, I do realize that the judge reviewed all of the facts and evidence, and unfortunately there just wasn't enough to corroborate my memories. A case like mine is much harder to prove then a case involving DNA and contusions."

Andrew Cotrupi of Hampton, Bourgelais' attorney, said his client is pleased with the decision. "It's the right decision," he said. "This process bankrupted my client and ruined his relationship with his daughter, so I wouldn't classify it as a great victory. But it's the right decision."

Light disagrees. "I remain where I stood when all of this began, which is that I know the truth," she said. "I know what happened to me, and so does Phillip Bourgelais. From the beginning, I voluntarily offered to take a polygraph test. Phil had the chance three times and refused all three."

Nevertheless, said Light, the time has come to move forward. "I have no choice now but to move on with my life and try to put this all behind me. But what was done to me will always be in the back of my mind," she said. "I hope that I have opened doors for others like me to come forward."

"This is a regional signal that repressed memories are not valid," Cotrupi said. "Every court in this area has agreed on this. Still, it requires parents and grandparents to dip into retirement accounts to pay for the experts," he said. "The state can outspend you, but it still can't make them right."

County Attorney Jim Reams was not available for comment.


Judge to decide if repressed memory case goes to trial

Rhianna Light

Rhianna Light, backed by her mother Stacey, was at the center of a hearing that concluded last week concerning repressed memories of alleged sexual abuse by her father. Photo by Jay Reiter

BRENTWOOD - The evidentiary hearing to determine whether Exeter resident Phillip Bourgelais will go to trial for allegedly sexually abusing his daughter Rhianna Light between the ages of 6 and 7 ended after a full day of rebuttals for both sides on Thursday.

Rockingham County Superior Court Justice Tina Nadeau will now review extensive scientific and emotional testimony in order to determine whether the eight criteria needed to allow a repressed memory case have been met.

Light, now 18, says she began to recall suppressed memories of sexual abuse in 2001, first in fragments, and later in full memories.

A New Hampshire state law known as the Hungerford Law prevents repressed and recovered memories from being admissible in court unless eight criteria are met.

Of these, four concern the reliability of the science, while four are specific to the individual whose memories are in question, having to do with the age of the accuser when the alleged abuse took place, specific circumstances surrounding the abuse and the recovery process of the memories.

Testimony heard on this last day consisted of the defense's rebuttal witness, Dr. David Medoff, and the prosecution's witness, Daniel Brown, Ph.D., a Massachusetts psychologist and memory-recovery expert.

Medoff testified that the tests Brown used on Light were not valid, and the one that was valid showed "extremely severe pathology to the point that it wasn't valid."

Brown maintained that the tests were "open-ended" and there was no control over the selection of questions or the wording of the questions. He spoke about the Impact of Event Scale, a tool developed in the 1990s to assess traumatic event symptoms. He said Light scored within a range of suggestive trauma, so he used a more in-depth interview. "The error rate goes down by assessing in different ways," he said.

The defense also cited studies done by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who strongly discredits the reliability of repressed memory, stating that recovered memories are "products of suggestion."

Brown rebutted this statement. "People who have been abused and don't trust easily are less suggestible," he said.

"It would be very hard to intentionally score a certain way on these tests," Brown said.

Defense attorney Andrew Cotrupi of Hampton also asked Brown if the person doing the testing "tried to fool the alleged victim to get them to answer right, in essence using tone and body gestures to communicate disapproval."

"If I look at questions and notice some were answered incorrectly, I'll re-ask them and ask the person to please try to answer correctly," Brown answered.

The defense offered only a brief summation at the end. "This is a young woman who had severe problems, and there are chronic questions of her reliability,"

Cotrupi said. "Hungerford is undisputed. The state is far from the burden of proof."

"This case is about people," said Howard Helrich, the prosecutor who replaced Brad Bolton, who originally worked on the case. "Repression has been accepted by the Supreme Court. The issue is the process of recovery of the memories."

Helrich went on to say that Light's memories were confirmed by place, season, furniture, and clothing, and by her prior medical history.

"You can't create trauma in a lab," he said. "How sophisticated would she have to be to sway these tests?"

"The bottom line is, science has changed in the 10 years since Hungerford," Helrich said.

The hearing, which began last August, has been continued numerous times. This last day of testimony has been continued since September.

"There were a series of unfortunate events that have caused the continuation of this hearing to such a late date, and I'm sorry for that," said Judge Nadeau, referring to the continuances on both sides as well as the medical leave of Bolton in November.

Rhianna Light said she is glad the hearing is over.

"It's tiring," she said. Even so, she said she is pleased overall with the process. "I'm confident the judge's answer will be fair," she said. "She's been listening to both sides and doing her best, and whatever answer she gives, I know she took it all in. I can't imagine her job right now."

Light said that despite the fact that this ordeal began in 2001, she is still living a fairly normal life.

"If they decide against a trial, it's OK with me," she said. "I've given it everything I could. I would like it to go further, but it's hard to say."

Light also said that she wants people to know the truth.

"If this doesn't go forward, it means we didn't meet the criteria for repressed memories in New Hampshire, not that it didn't happen," she said. "It's important to me that people know that."

According to Light, in addition to her father being found guilty of physical assault against her, he was found guilty by the DCYF (Division for Children, Youth, and Families) on sexual assault charges in 2001.

"It stays in their computers. He isn't registered as a sex offender, but it's there," she said.

Cotrupi maintains his client's innocence.

"No one else in America does tests like the ones done in this case," he said. "I believe the hearing went well because my expert doesn't make his living testifying in court."

"The judge has been extremely patient and attentive in this long, drawn-out hearing," Cotrupi said.

Helrich said the state's evidence went well with regard to testing.

"I think we addressed criteria not in the original Hungerford case," he said. "The testing was relevant and we introduced competent evidence."

Although Helrich said he can't predict what the judge will rule, he said he has faith in the job his office did. "It's an important case, not only for the people involved in this case, but for victims all over the state," he said.

Light agrees. "It's hard being a survivor of sexual abuse," she said. "Everyone looks at you differently."


Human mind put on trial

BRENTWOOD - Prosecutors began presenting testimony this past week that they hope will convince a superior court judge to clear the way for repressed memories of sexual abuse to be admissible as court evidence.

Under a 1996 New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling called the Hungerford Law, state courts do not recognize repressed memories as reliable. Hungerford requires certain criteria be met for those memories to be used as testimony.

If Assistant Rockingham County Attorney Brad Bolton meets those criteria, he'll have the go-ahead to try an ongoing sexual abuse case against Exeter resident Philip Bourgelais.

A grand jury indicted Bourgelais in 2002 on 18 felony counts of aggravated sexual assault, indecent exposure and lewdness as a result of memories recovered by his biological daughter. An indictment is not an indication of guilt; rather, a grand jury found sufficient evidence to warrant a trial.

This past week's hearing has much broader scope.

Bolton also hopes Superior Court Judge Tina Nadeau will rule that the science has changed since Hungerford, and modify the law's criteria to make it easier to enter recovered memories in court.

"It's an overwhelming responsibility to make sure only good science gets put before juries," said Bourgelais' defense attorney, Andrew Cotrupi of Hampton. "But I'm optimistic."

On the other hand, so is the prosecution.

"I think we have a decent shot at getting the standard changed," Bolton said.

The Hungerford Law

In 1996, in the state of New Hampshire vs. Joel Hungerford, the Supreme Court ruled the study of repressed memories should be taken on a case-by-case basis, and established eight criteria for admissibility.

Four concern the reliability of the science.

The other four are specific to the individual whose memories are in question. They cover the age at which the alleged abuse happened, the amount of time lapsed before the memories were recovered, and the circumstances around the recovery.

In the 1996 Hungerford case, experts testified on both sides of the inexact, and emerging, science of memory recovery.

One of them, Dan Brown, a Massachusetts psychologist, this past week returned to the court as an expert witness for the prosecution. Brown claims the science has caught up to the court's standards.

Brown is a highly credentialed psychologist and educator who has authored several textbooks and articles in this field. He also served as an expert for repressed trauma memories on the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

He led the court through a two-day presentation on "the nature of memory."

"Studies show there's no significant decrease in accuracy because (a memory) was repressed," he said.

Modern Science

Specific to the criteria addressed in the state's original Hungerford ruling, Brown made several points.

One is that when the Hungerford case was tried, there were just 12 relevant clinical studies. Now, there are about 85, he said.

During his presentation, Brown addressed the methodology and results of each study, hoping to show their validity.

Many of those studies support the accuracy of specific recovered memories with corroborative evidence - for example, a witness to the abuse, or a videotaped record made by the abuser.

Brown also said the victims in the Hungerford case had recovered their memories while in memory-retrieval therapy, a specialized - and, some say, unproven - type of therapy that targets repressed memories. Critics say this therapy allows for the possibility of false memories to be implanted.

Not so for Bourgelais' daughter, Brown said.

He reviewed her medical and psychological records and found what he sees as corroboration - as a child, she told a therapist about a nonspecific memory of her accuser climbing into bed with her. Years later, when she began to recover more specific memories, she was able to parse out the details of that memory into one of abuse.

Brown also tested her inclination toward suggestibility to rule out the possibility of false memories being implanted by other people, and for dissociative tendencies - her ability to compartmentalize, essentially locking traumatic memories away.

At the time of Hungerford, standardized testing was inadequate in both these areas, Brown said.

"I think this is a very different situation," he said, adding the maturity of the science has changed, and those studies challenged in Hungerford have been proven since then.

Bolton agreed.

"I think the court is going to look at the underlying studies of the scientific community to see what they say," Bolton said. "It's not going to listen to a 'He said, she said' between experts."

The Challengers

In the opposing camp are several scholars who also testified in the original Hungerford case and who refute Brown's claims. They are equally credentialed and equally confident about their interpretation of the studies he cited.

The defense is trying to prove that Brown and his supporters are the minority in the professional medical world - that memory recovery is still an inaccurate, fledgling science.

"How do you try a case against someone who believes they've recovered a repressed memory?" Cotrupi asked. "They genuinely believe what they're feeling. They're not lying. But that doesn't mean what they remember is true."

Hungerford was challenged unsuccessfully earlier this year in Belknap County. Similar laws exist in other states, and repressed memories have been in the news recently thanks to the Catholic Church's abuse scandal.

Now Cotrupi's client, Bourgelais, finds himself defending not only his own innocence, but a state law and an entire psychological philosophy, Cotrupi said.

"His future could depend upon an interpretation of what science can and can't tell us about the human mind," he said.

To that end, when the trial resumes in September, Cotrupi will call his own experts to testify in opposition to Brown.

"It's going to be interesting," he said.

Testing Hungerford

Throughout the two-day hearing, Bourgelais sat quietly beside his attorney. His family clustered behind him in the audience.

His accuser's family sat across the aisle, listening intently to the detailed testimony.

Judge Nadeau asked Brown to repeat himself on a few occasions, taking notes throughout the presentation.

Cotrupi made frequent objections to Brown's testimony; more often than not, Nadeau overruled the objections.

Following the hearing Wednesday, Cotrupi remained hopeful.

"We're not done yet," he said.

The Bourgelais Hungerford hearing is scheduled to continue Sept. 7, 8 and 10 at the Rockingham County Courthouse.

If the prosecution convinces Nadeau that the science of memory recovery is measurably reliable, it can focus on preparing the case that necessitated this legal challenge in the first place.

At the center of it all is Bourgelais' daughter, now a teenager.

"She's been through a lot," Bolton said. "Not just what we're going to hear about in this case. She's really a remarkable person, and I have a lot of respect for her."

When the court adjourned this past week after the second day of testimony, she stood in the lobby with her mother beside her.

Her mother said she hoped the law would be changed to allow her daughter, and victims like her, to find justice for what was done to them.

"I hope that when this hearing begins again, the mothers of other victims will sit behind my daughter in that courtroom to send a message and show their support for my daughter and for changing the law," she said. "This isn't just for my daughter. This is for a lot of people who have been hurt."

Bolton agreed.

"We believe the victim in this case was subjected to some pretty serious abuse as a child," he said. "We think she deserves her day in court, and we're going to work to get her that day."


Memories on trial

EXETER - She's just 18, but the fate of a state law and of her biological father rests on her shoulders.

Rhianna Bourgelais says her father sexually abused her as a child, but she pushed the memories of the abuse out of her mind, a psychological phenomenon called memory repression. But 10 years later, in 2001, those memories came back. Rhianna told a therapist, who in turn told the police.

Her father, Philip Bourgelais, of Exeter, was charged with 18 related counts and indicted by a grand jury.

Bourgelais' defense attorney, Andrew Cotrupi, declined to discuss the specifics of the case.

"If the purported victim wants to litigate this in the press, people should wonder why," said Cotrupi.

When Rhianna decided to press charges against her father, Assistant Rockingham County Attorney Brad Bolton told her he believed in her case but that prosecuting it might be difficult since there was a catch.

As a result of a New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling in 1996 - known as the Hungerford Law - state courts must consider repressed memories unreliable.

In order for Rhianna's memories to be admissible in court, several specific criteria would need to be met.

Essentially, Rhianna's mind would be put on trial.

Last week a Rockingham County Superior Court judge heard testimony that may shape the way some sexual abuse cases are tried.

At a hearing that began last Tuesday and is scheduled to continue next month, the prosecution hopes to prove not only that Rhianna's case sufficiently meets the criteria of the law to allow the Bourgelais trial to go forward, but that the science of memory recovery has changed enough since 1996 to merit modifying the Hungerford Law.

"That's a lot of responsibility for a young woman," said Bolton. "She's very courageous, and I have a lot of respect for her."

For Rhianna, there was never any doubt.

"If I didn't do it, who would?"

Remembering

Rhianna Bourgelais will go to court next month to change her last name to Light. That's her mother Stacey's name.

Her parents split when she was 2, and for the next few years Rhianna spent time with each of them.

Even before Rhianna began recovering what she believes are memories of sexual abuse, she learned about physical abuse at the hands of her father.

In 2001, when 14-year-old Rhianna was staying with her father in Exeter, a school nurse called Stacey and said her daughter had come to school with bruises.

Rhianna Bourgelais, 18, and her mother Stacey Light are involved in a court battle over memory repression. Bourgelais says her father sexually abused her as a child, but a New Hampshire law prevents those repressed memories from being used in court. Photo by Jay Reiter

Rhianna said her father had physically assaulted her at a Water Street business, and at home and in the car. She said the physical abuse was ongoing.

Bourgelais was convicted on three counts of simple assault against his daughter. After that, Rhianna stopped staying with him.

"She loved her father," Stacey said. "He violated that."

Later that year, Rhianna started remembering what she said was repeated sexual abuse by her father when she was 6 and 7 years old.

It came first as fragments, as unaccountable feelings of anxiety. Later, she was able to flesh out the details into full-blown memories.

Dan Brown, a Massachusetts psychologist and a pioneer in the science of memory recovery, testified last week in the prosecution's attempt to modify the Hungerford Law.

"Just because a memory has been repressed doesn't mean it's not accurate," Brown told the court.

Rhianna said that though the memories frightened her when they first began resurfacing, she never doubted they were real.

"It was more denial," she said. "I didn't want to believe they happened to me."

Family

For Rhianna's mom, as for much of her family, last week's court hearing was the first time she heard any of the details about the alleged sexual abuse.

"I didn't really get into specifics with anybody," said Rhianna. "Everybody is incredibly supportive, but it's scary having them there in court, too. It was painful for me to hear those things again."

It's likely to get worse. Bolton said that when the hearing resumes, Rhianna will take the witness stand to spell out the details of her memories to the court.

The defense will have the opportunity to cross-examine her.

"I suspect it will be difficult for her," said Bolton. "That wouldn't be an easy thing for anyone, but especially for a young woman who's been through what she has."

There were times when she wanted to give up, she said. In those instances, Bolton and her family gave their assent.

"They said it was OK," Rhianna explained, "that I didn't have to do this.

"But every victim of sexual abuse thinks they're alone," she said. "It's not just a surface scratch - it runs deep, and stays with you your whole life; and no matter what you do, therapy or anything, it doesn't go away. You can't make it go away.

"I'm not just doing this for me. I'm doing it for all the victims like me."

To that end, she and her mother hope that victims of similar abuse, and their family members, will turn out at the courthouse wearing teal ribbons when the hearing resumes on Sept. 7, 8 and 10.

"The ribbons show support for victims of sexual abuse, and for the Hungerford Law to be overturned," Stacey said. "I would love to see people sitting behind my little girl, showing their support."

The Challenge

Bourgelais' defense attorney, Andrew Cotrupi, said he's optimistic about his client's chances.

"It's a lot," he said. "No one understands how the human mind works - and we have the foremost experts in the field."

He chose not to comment on the specifics of the Bourgelais case other than to say, "We're not done yet."

When the hearing resumes, Cotrupi will present his own expert witnesses to refute Brown's claims and methodologies.

"People should reserve their judgment until they hear both sides," he said. "So far, they've only heard one."

If the prosecution is successful in proving that Rhianna's memories meet the Hungerford criteria, Bourgelais can appeal.

Rhianna knows she may turn up empty in her bid. But she's OK with that, she said, because she's going through with the trial for more than one reason.

Although she'd like to see Bourgelais punished, she'd also like to help other victims by paving the way for their cases to be heard, she said.

But, mostly, she said, it's for herself.

"I'd like validation for what I remembered, for what I feel," she said. "When I first started remembering, I couldn't get it out of my head. It was all I thought about 24 hours a day."

Her mother said if one good thing has come of all this, it's that she and Rhianna have grown closer.

"We have a very close relationship," she said. "We work very hard at it."

Her fear is that the Hungerford challenge will fail, and Rhianna won't be given a voice.

"I'm hoping my daughter, who is a victim already, doesn't become victimized again," Stacey said. "She had her childhood taken away from her, but she's voluntarily giving up her teenage years for this.

"I'm so proud of her. I'm proud she's my daughter."

It wasn't always such a close relationship, she said. The custody battle and other obstacles came between them early in Rhianna's life.

Stacey said she stuck with a lesson her own mother had taught her.

"Never give up on a child," she said.

But to her surprise, Stacey also learned something from Rhianna.

"She never gave up on me, either."

The Bourgelais Hungerford hearing will resume Sept. 7 at the Rockingham County Courthouse.

Eight criteria needed to establish 'repressed memories'

The genesis of the state's legal view of repressed memories, known as the Hungerford Law, is a sexual abuse case tried in New Hampshire Superior Court in 1996.

The victim in that case was a woman named Laura who suffered from depression and experienced sexual problems in her marriage. Laura began seeing a therapist in 1992, in her late 20s, when her sister claimed to have recovered memories of being sexually abused by their father, Joel Hungerford.

According to court documents, Laura told her therapist that one of her motivations in seeking therapy was to "explore the possibility that she was sexually abused." In addition to psychotherapy, Laura began therapy specifically designed to retrieve repressed memories.

Over the course of about 100 sessions, Laura said she remembered several episodes of abuse. Some of her memories returned outside therapy, but many were examined within the confines of her relationship with her therapist.

The details of her memories as outlined in the court documents are graphic.

The therapist told the court at the time she believed that dreams "often are the first signs of emerging memory," that flashbacks are a "sudden reliving of ... sexual abuse," and that "nightmares are a red flag for the existence of sexual abuse."

The trial court ruled that a preliminary hearing was required to address the issue of whether such memories were admissible, and that the state would bear the burden of demonstrating that the phenomena of memory repression and recovery are reliable and have gained general acceptance in the psychological community.

The court held a two-week hearing, during which seven experts on both sides of the issue testified.

After the hearing, the trial court defined a repressed memory as "the complete absence of awareness or memory of a traumatic event from the time of its occurrence until a period of years thereafter."

It also ruled that the state had failed to meet its burden of proving that there was general acceptance of the phenomenon of repressed memories in the psychological community, and that the state had failed to demonstrate that the phenomenon was reliable.

The court ruled that the study of repressed memories should be taken on a case-by-case basis, and established eight criteria for admissibility.

Four concern the reliability of the science.

The other four are specific to the individual whose memories are in question. They cover the age at which the alleged abuse happened, the amount of time lapsed before the memories were recovered and the circumstances around the recovery.

The Hungerford ruling was appealed to the state Supreme Court, and the decision withheld in 1997.

Under the Hungerford law, in order for any case involving repressed memories to be tried, those eight criteria must first be met in a pre-trial hearing.

The Hungerford hearing for the Rhianna Bourgelais case began last Tuesday, and is expected to resume Sept. 7.


Teen's memory on the stand

BRENTWOOD - The 18-year-old Hampton woman who says she repressed and subsequently recovered memories of her father sexually abusing her took the stand this week in Rockingham County Superior Court.

Rhianna Light's testimony capped off two more days of a pretrial hearing to determine whether the assault case against her biological father, Phil Bourgelais, of Exeter, can proceed.

Under something called the Hungerford Law, the State of New Hampshire's Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that repressed and recovered memories are admissible in court only if eight criteria are met.

Four of the criteria have to do with the accuser and the circumstances surrounding the memories' recovery; four speak to the reliability of the science of memory recovery itself.

Assistant Rockingham County Prosecutor Brad Bolton is hoping to prove that his client's memories meet those criteria. The hearing began last month. It resumed Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and will continue today.

Memories

Light claims she began recalling incidents of sexual abuse in 2001 that she said happened when she was between the ages of 6 and 7.

On the stand, Light seemed confident and strong, if a little nervous. Her voice grew soft at times.

During the cross-examination, she met defense attorney Andrew Cotrupi's gaze as he challenged her testimony, her motives and the timeline of events that led to her accusations.

Light admitted she'd had problems with alcohol and drugs. She was hospitalized at Hampstead Hospital more than once after she began thinking suicidally.

Those stays came after she began to suspect she'd been sexually abused, she said.

"It was just getting to be too much," Light said, "... dealing with the possibility that I'd been sexually abused."

Both prosecution and defense tried to get at the core of how that possibility first came to be considered.

In her early teens, Light began hearing a disembodied male voice - one she described in her testimony as "stern, angry, controlling" - and mentioned it to a therapist. Later, Light would connect that voice with her father, and with at least three incidents of abuse, she said.

The case might hinge on how that connection was made. One of the criteria outlined by Hungerford says that repressed memories can not be recovered in therapy specifically designed for retrieval.

Cotrupi argued that at least one of Light's former therapists, Catherine Ganley-Brown, who took the stand for the prosecution Tuesday, told Light that hearing voices can be an indicator of sexual abuse.

Initially, Cotrupi said, Light told prosecutors that no therapist had told her that. But following Ganley-Brown's testimony, she admitted she had been told, and had forgotten it.

Cotrupi's argument is that once Ganley-Brown had suggested that possibility, the seed was planted.

Following that realization, he said, Light purchased several self-help workbooks on sexual abuse, and participated in an online forum for survivors of abuse, which he implied informed her process of recovering the memories.

Light said her memories came back to her first as still images and later as fleshed-out memories, like dreams. In two of the three images, she said, she can see her father.

With those memories in mind, she turned to the family photo albums looking for something that might trigger more memories, she said. She found bits and pieces of things that, to her, corroborated what she was feeling.

The prosecution showed some of those photos in court Wednesday.

Most were of a younger Light in her father's Beech Street home in Exeter. In one, she's standing beside a Christmas tree on which hangs an ornament she remembered in one of her memories. In another, she's wearing a dress she remembered.

Prosecutor Bolton repeatedly asked whether the memories had resurfaced before Light's finding the photos, or if the photos had triggered the memories; in each case, she said the memories had come first.

Sins of the father

Light's parents split when she was 2. She lived with her father full time for a while, and then spent time week-on, week-off with both parents.

In 2001, her father was convicted on three counts of simple assault against her. After that, Light stayed with her mother full time.

The defense made the case that the sexual abuse accusations may be driven by other motives, including revenge for that physical abuse, or Light's wanting to protect her mother during the emotional custody battle that ensued.

Cotrupi pointed out that Light's mother, Stacey Light, had also been sexually assaulted when she was younger, and had been hospitalized for drug addiction.

Under his questioning, both Ganley-Brown and Light's current therapist, Lisa Higgins-Siegal, who took the stand Wednesday, said that at times, Light needed to "mother her mother" emotionally.

In July 2000, Light told a counselor she wanted to live with her father "because he listens," Cotrupi said. She also said at the time she was worried about telling her mother because she feared her mother might commit suicide.

Light said she hadn't wanted to live with her mother because her mother wouldn't let her smoke marijuana, drink alcohol or skip school, but said her father would.

Both Bolton and Cotrupi questioned Light about the physical abuse for which Bourgelais was convicted. She said that was not the first time he'd gotten physical with her.

But Cotrupi questioned those claims, and pointed out that before the assault, Light had characterized her relationship with her father as "great."

"Yes," she said. "Because there were no rules."

"You were free to do what you wanted?" Cotrupi asked.

"Yes."

Throughout the trial, Bourgelais sat silently beside Cotrupi. His parents and other supporters sat behind him.

Light's family and friends clustered on the other side of the court, huddling around the teen during breaks.

The hearing resumes today when the defense will present its own expert witness to testify against the reliability of recovered memories.


Caution necessary in use of repressed memories in trial

“We urge the courts to keep the threshold high when it comes to introducing repressed memories as evidence in criminal trials”
-- Editor: The Portsmouth Herald

The jury is still out when it comes to the relatively new psychological practice of retrieving repressed memories.

That's why our state's courts have set an extremely high threshold when repressed memories are used as the basis for finding someone guilty of a crime. The threshold includes eight criteria that focus on the specific individual making the accusations and the circumstances surrounding the retrieval of the memories.

A case now being argued before a Rockingham County Superior Court judge, however, says that the science of retrieving repressed memories has advanced to a point where those memories should no longer be considered unreliable.

While we understand the motive of the county prosecutor and empathize with the alleged victim, we believe if they are victorious they will set a dangerous precedent that could, in some cases, cause innocent men and women to be convicted based on science that is questionable at best.

A prosecutor from the Rockingham County Attorney's office is fighting for a young woman who says she was sexually assaulted by her biological father, Phillip Bourgelais, of Exeter.

The abuse allegedly occurred when the girl was quite young, but she only began to speak of it more than a decade later as she matured and received help from a therapist.

We are in no position to judge the truth of her accusation. Our concern with it is simply that the central piece of evidence seems to be a memory that was repressed for years and has now allegedly surfaced. The attorney for the accused put into words our gut-level concern.

"How do you try a case against someone who believes they've recovered a repressed memory?" asked Andrew Cotrupi, of Hampton. "They genuinely believe what they're feeling. They're not lying. But that doesn't mean what they remember is true."

If repressed memories are corroborated by physical evidence, eyewitness testimony, confessions or some other type of evidence, they could help bring the distant past into focus. By themselves, they present a fuzzy picture indeed.

We urge the courts to keep the threshold high when it comes to introducing repressed memories as evidence in criminal trials.


Memory is at issue

BRENTWOOD - In the hearing to determine whether repressed memories should be admissible in a sex abuse trial, it was a battle of science on Friday.

At its core, the case is about claims made by 18-year-old Rhianna Light that, when she was younger, her father, Exeter resident Phil Bourgelais, sexually abused her. Light says she repressed and subsequently recovered memories of that abuse.

In 1996, a state Supreme Court ruling established criteria for prosecutors to meet for repressed memories to be admissible in New Hampshire courts. Last month, Assistant Rockingham County Attorney Brad Bolton began his efforts to show that her case meets those criteria.

But painted on a broader canvas, much of the case so far has been about science.

The prosecution's expert witness, Dan Brown, testified that, based largely on his review of 85 scholarly studies in the field, repressed memories are reliable. Brown also said most of the scientific community agrees.

On Friday, the court heard otherwise.

Dr. Harrison Pope, a Harvard psychiatrist acting as witness for the defense, rebutted most of Brown's claims. He also disputed Brown's methodologies.

For nearly 30 years, Pope has been a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, teaching at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. His expertise, he said, lies in the design and interpretation of studies and minimizing metholodogical flaws.

Pope said he is one of the 250 most-cited psychiatrists in the world.

Defense attorney Andrew Cotrupi spent some time Friday establishing Pope's resume for the court, and comparing it to Brown's.

Immediately, Bolton took exception.

"I don't understand how (Pope) could be an expert in repressed memories if he doesn't believe they exist," he said.

Memories

Pope's testimony began simply.

"Trauma is memorable," he said.

People are more likely to remember Sept. 11, 2001 - the day the airliners crashed into buildings in New York and Washington, D.C. - than, say, Aug. 11.

"If Mother Nature designed us to forget trauma, that would seem very odd," he said. "If we forgot that we were attacked by a lion, we'd walk in front of another lion."

Science, like law, has a burden of proof, Pope said. In this case it falls on those who support repressed memories.

In order to acceptably meet that burden of proof from a scientific example, he said, simple criteria need to be met. A scientist must show that a significant number of victims of documented trauma were unable to remember that trauma.

In addition, other causes of amnesia need to be ruled out, such as age, physical injury or drunkenness, he said.

In Pope's opinion, most of the studies cited by Brown failed to meet those criteria - either the initial trauma wasn't documented, or other causes of forgetting were not ruled out.

In many cases, he said, victims of trauma don't report it. Nonreporting can be mistaken for amnesia.

Many studies are done retrospectively, he said - subjects who self-report trauma later are asked if, at any time, they forgot that trauma. That's an unreliable approach to documenting dissociative amnesia, a more technical term for repressed memories.

"I'm not saying as a scientist that repressed memory can't exist," Pope said. "I could be convinced. ... (But) the burden of proof falls on the other side to prove that it does."

General Acceptance

Pope spoke to the idea of general acceptance; essentially, whether a majority of scientists accepts the phenomenon of repressed memories.

"If it were valid," he said, "one would expect a steady output of scientific publications on the topic."

To that end, Pope searched publication databases for repressed memory-related terms and found more than 100 articles published in 1997.

Before that, he found "almost zero," he said, and after 1997 he found a major drop-off. There were just 34 publications in 2003.

"That suggests that repressed memories enjoyed a brief period of scientific interest which has now waned," he said.

For comparison, Pope also searched for studies on other recently defined scientific orders, such as binge-eating and chronic fatigue syndrome. He found a similar peak but no significant drop-off.

Further, he said, since 10 percent of women and 5 percent of men experience some sort of childhood sexual abuse, if just 20 percent experienced repressed memories, hypothetically speaking there should be about 3 million cases of repressed memories annually.

"There was not a single published case (of documented repressed memory) in 2003," Pope said.

Pope outlined what he called the "four fallacies" that plague many of the studies cited by Brown.

One of them posits that just because a scientist thinks something is possible does not mean it is generally accepted.

As an example, Pope considered life on Mars. Even if most scientists think it is possible for life to exist on Mars, it is not generally accepted that it does, he said.

"Is repressed memory generally accepted in the scientific community?" Cotrupi asked Pope.

"It is clearly not," Pope replied. "I would say it enjoys even less recognition ... than it did at the time of Hungerford in the mid-1990s."

Cross examination

When Cotrupi cross-examined Brown earlier last week, he attacked the expert's motivation for testifying in court. On Friday, the prosecution did the same with Pope.

Pope is a member of the scientific advisory board of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a nonprofit group that acts as a flagbearer for the idea that repressed memories can be implanted or imagined.

Bolton said the FMSF has been involved in several high-profile lawsuits against therapists who claimed to have helped patients recover memories.

He also linked Pope to Christopher Barden, a psychologist and attorney who consulted on Pope's published critique of Brown. Barden also has been perhaps the most vocal opponent of repressed memories, speaking on TV and in print media, and trying several large jury award cases claiming false memories.

Assistant County Attorney Bolton went after the integrity of the FMSF, which he said is composed of "a group of parents who feel they've been falsely accused by their children."

He questioned Pope's involvement with Barden and the FMSF, "two groups who have a serious interest in squashing the science of repressed memories."

Pope defended his involvement, saying he was a member only of the scientific advisory board and not involved in the day-to-day operations of the group.

"I strongly support the science," he said.

Bolton also worked his way through several published studies that Brown said documented repressed memories, questioning why they failed to meet Pope's criteria for reliability.

Pope stood his ground, repeating variations of similar statements like a mantra.

"Certainly people make active attempts to forget," he said. "That's quite different from not being able to remember. ... Of course there are people who try to avoid talking about trauma, too. That is very different from being unable to remember trauma."

Bolton seemed skeptical.

"Of all the studies, the only one that meets your criteria supports your position?" he asked.

As a witness, Pope earns $600 an hour. He said he had been told the defense had limited funds, and said he expected to be paid for 10 hours of his time "at the most."

"I've gone well over that already," he said.