Prosecutors from the state want a Hampden homicide victim’s spiritual journal to become evidence in their case against her alleged killer. But the priest who directed her to keep the journal says it should be treated as if he heard its contents in a confessional.
A superior court justice is set to decide whether the journal is evidence in the case against Renee Henneberry Clark’s alleged killer, her brother-in-law Philip Clark, after a Wednesday hearing on the prosecutors’ request.
Prosecutors want to read the diary to see if its contents can be used as evidence in their murder case against Clark.
But the attorney for the Catholic priest, who obtained the diary after Henneberry Clark was killed and is a possible witness in the murder case, believes it falls under the religious privilege exemption rule of court procedure and cannot be read by a judge, let alone admitted as evidence.
Religious privilege is the legal concept that keeps courts from compelling confessions and conversations between members of the clergy and their congregants from being made public.
Clark, 55, of Hampden is charged with intentional or knowing murder in the shooting death Henneberry Clark in July at the Hampden apartment she had shared with her estranged husband, Frank Clark, 56, the brother of Philip Clark. The accused killer and victim lived in adjacent apartments at 557 Kennebec Road.
The defendant, who is being held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail, has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
His trial is tentatively set for November 2019 at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
The hearing on Assistant Attorneys General Leane Zainea and John Alsop’s September motion to read the diary is set for 1 p.m. Wednesday before Superior Court Justice William Anderson at the Bangor courthouse.
Prosecutors claimed in the motion that the journal contains possible information “concerning the status of the victim relative to the defendant and her relationship with other parties and witnesses in the case, including the defendant’s brother, to whom she was married at the time and going through a divorce.”
Prosecutors also believe the journal contains entries “relating to the victim’s concern about the defendant’s access to firearms,” according to their motion.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that Henneberry Clark died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to court documents. Henneberry Clark had a criminal trespass order in place against her brother-in-law at the time of her death.
Bangor attorney Charles Gilbert, who represents Henneberry Clark’s priest, the Rev. Anthony Cipolle of Bangor, opposes the state’s motion. Gilbert said that religious privilege “is not limited to oral communication but extends to documents,” such as a journal.
Henneberry Clark kept the journal at the suggestion of her priest as part of her spiritual direction, a form of religious exploration and counseling, Gilbert said.
“In practice, the way this worked is the communicant would write in the journal, and that writing would be reviewed by the father and then discussed in a face-to-face meeting,” the attorney said. “The writings were intended to be confidential as part of the spiritual guidance process.”
Gilbert also opposed the judge reading the diary in private to determine whether any of its entries are relevant to Clark’s case.
Clark’s co-defense attorney, David Bate of Bangor, has not taken a stand on the state’s motion but will participate in the hearing.
After Clark was arraigned in August, co-counsel Logan Perkins of Belfast told reporters that the defense team had been unsuccessful in interviewing Cipolle about an incident the day before Henneberry Clark died that involved the priest and the defendant.
Perkins was referring to a July 11 “altercation” between the two men that Henneberry Clark witnessed at the apartment where her body was found, according to a police affidavit filed in support of Clark’s arrest.
“We’re going to make sure to do our due diligence in turning over every stone we possibly can, and a big piece of that puzzle is what Father Cipolle knows or doesn’t know about that situation,” Perkins said.
Hampden Public Safety Director Joseph Rogers has confirmed that police were called to 557 Kennebec Road on July 11 but has declined to give details about that call.
Cipolle, 53, of Bangor also has declined to comment on the alleged incident.
“I have been identified as a possible witness to events in the timeframe before the death of Renee Clark,” Cipolle said in a July email. “Given the circumstances, I am unable to comment or reply to any questions while the criminal process is ongoing.”
Cipolle, originally from Arlington, Massachusetts, was ordained Nov. 18, 2017, and was assigned to St. Paul the Apostle Parish, which includes Catholic churches in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport.
Henneberry Clark regularly attended Mass at St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Winterport, according to her obituary.