East Providence man pleads guilty to sexual assault charges

Associated Press/April 3, 2003

New Bedford, Mass. -- A former Jehovah's Witnesses official pleaded guilty Tuesday to sexually assaulting his young stepdaughter and her male cousin in the 1970s and was sentenced to one year in prison.

Ralph Heroux, 74, of East Providence, was a ministerial servant at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in North Attleboro between 1976 and 1978, when the incidents took place.

His victims -- a 36-year-old New Bedford man and his cousin, a 36-year-old Attleboro woman -- said church officials were told of the abuse at the time, but never told officials or other members of the congregation, it was reported.

The victims were not identified by name. They said they are contemplating civil lawsuits against the church.

Prosecutor Cynthia Brackett said the abuse began soon after Heroux married the woman's mother in 1971, when the woman was 5 years old. Heroux and the woman's mother divorced in 1978. He later remarried and moved from Attleboro to Rhode Island.

The early years of the abuse were beyond the statute of limitations. But prosecutors were able to prosecute abuse that took place in the late 1970s because he moved out of state, triggering a "tolling statute"that freezes the statute of limitations.

The allegations surfaced last year, when the Kingdom Hall sent a letter to the Attleboro victim and the Bristol County District Attorney's office under the state's new reporting law for sexual crimes by clergy.

Heroux pleaded guilty to charges of rape of a child and indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.

His lawyer, Kevin Reddington, said Heroux pleaded guilty to "put it behind him,"and to spare the victims and his family the ordeal of a trial.

"At one time, he had a relationship with these people and does not want to see them hurt," Reddington said.

Local church officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Spokesmen for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the corporate entity that controls the church, declined to comment on the case.

Heroux was sentenced to a year in prison, followed by two years of home confinement. After that he'll be on probation for three years and must attend sex offender counseling. He is barred from contacting the victim.

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