A federal jury in Delaware awarded $2.4 million Monday to a New Jersey man who claimed he was abused as a boy more than 30 years ago by a cleric who worked in the Archdiocese of New York.
Brian Elliott, 44, claims he was repeatedly molested by Brother Damian Galligan, including while passing through Delaware during a trip from his boyhood home in New Jersey to Galligan's brother's home outside Washington, D.C., in 1981.
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Galligan, 86, initially denied the allegations but later decided not to defend himself in the case, citing his poor health.
"I do not have the physical, mental or emotional strength to continue to defend against the accusations made by Mr. Elliott," Galligan wrote in an affidavit last year. Galligan refused to travel from St. Louis, where he lives in a retirement facility, to Delaware for Monday's trial. The judge last week granted his attorney's request to withdraw from the case.
"He's not going to face you, and he has chosen not to face Brian," Elliott's attorney, Raeann Warner, told jurors.
Jurors deliberated for only about 90 minutes after hearing testimony from Elliott and watching a videotaped deposition by Peter Marghella, another alleged victim of Galligan who recently became director of the New York State Office of Emergency Management.
Elliott expressed relief at the verdict, which included $1.4 million in compensatory damages for pain and suffering, and $1 million in punitive damages.
"This has been weighing on me for a long time now," said Elliott, who doesn't expect to see any monetary retribution but said it was important to hear a jury say that what Galligan did to him was wrong.
Elliott, twice divorced and the father of two children, blames the abuse for self-destructive and negative behavior, including alcohol abuse and promiscuity, that has affected him and those close to him.
Carol Tavani, a psychiatrist, testified that Elliott suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and alcohol abuse.
Galligan was a member of the Marist Brothers of the Schools. The Brothers, New York archdiocese, and the Church of the Nativity of our Blessed Lady in the Bronx were all previously dismissed as defendants.
Elliott claimed he was abused in six states, but the lawsuit focused on incidents in Delaware. The statutes of limitation for filing lawsuits in other states had expired, but Elliott sued under a 2007 Delaware law that allowed victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits for offenses that happened long ago.
Elliott claimed that Galligan abused him over a six-year period, starting when he was 8 years old. Marghella, who was not a plaintiff in the case, said Galligan abused him for two years, taking advantage of his "self-assigned" position as a leader of altar boys at the Church of the Nativity.
Both men described the systematic, methodical way in which Galligan groped and fondled them. Elliott testified that Galligan often forced him to fondle him and Marghella said Galligan once tried to perform oral sex on him.
"He was ritualistic if nothing else," said Marghella, describing the deliberate way in which Galligan dressed and undressed him when they went swimming at what he later learned was a gay bathhouse, where he said Galligan would fondle him in the shower and pool.
"From day one, I knew something was not right with this guy," said Marghella, who grew up in a strict Catholic family and said that even as an adult, he could not bring himself to tell his mother what happened.
Elliott said he was abused by Galligan at his parents' house in New Jersey, Galligan's home in New York, and elsewhere. Elliott said Galligan would often shower with him, then apply powder to Elliott's body.
Elliott said Galligan told him that what they were doing was normal activity and "part of God's plan."
Elliott said the molestation in Delaware happened during a brief beach visit on the way to Virginia, and again on the way back to New Jersey, when Galligan stopped at rest stop on Interstate 95, bought Elliott an ice cream cone, then forced him to fondle him.
"I knew at some level this was very, very wrong," said Galligan, adding that the abuse stopped when he was 14 after his mother found a semen-stained T-shirt following an overnight stay by Galligan.