Rev. Anthony Cipolle (left) and Renee Henneberry Clark. Credit: Contributed | File

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The Catholic priest expected to be the star defense witness in a Hampden man’s murder trial will testify Thursday afternoon after repeatedly invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination late Wednesday.

The Rev. Anthony Cipolle, 54, of Arlington, Massachusetts, took the stand Wednesday after the jury had gone home for the day. On the advice of his attorney, Cipolle declined to answer questions about the events leading up to the shooting death of Renee Henneberry Clark, 49, of Hampden on July 11, 2018. He also invoked his Fifth Amendment right when asked if he had told a Maine State Police detective that he was in a romantic relationship with Henneberry Clark or if they’d planned an upcoming vacation together.

On Thursday, Cipolle told a judge he planned to waive his Fifth Amendment right and answer lawyers’ questions.

Philip Clark, 56, of Hampden has pleaded not guilty to intentional or knowing murder in the death of Henneberry Clark, his sister-in-law. Her body was found two days after she died in the bedroom of her apartment at 557 Kennebec Road in Hampden, where Clark also had an apartment.

Clark confessed to police that he pulled the trigger after she pushed “every frigging button she could” until he snapped and shot her 10 times.

Superior Court Justice William Stokes held the hearing late Wednesday to determine whether the priest would testify. Under Maine law, jurors may not hear a witness invoke his or her right to remain silent because it would allow them to speculate about the reasons for that decision, the judge said.

Defense attorney Logan Perkins of Belfast said Friday in her opening statement that Cipolle and Henneberry Clark worked together to get Clark to move out of the Kennebec Road building so she would be in possession of any property there she had owned jointly with her estranged husband, who is Clark’s brother.

Cipolle declined Wednesday to answer specific questions about the alleged theft of Clark’s carpentry tools and a fight the two men had about two hours before Henneberry Clark was killed.

Under Perkins’ questioning Wednesday, the priest described Henneberry Clark as a parishioner in St. Paul the Apostle Parish but said that he had known her for more than 10 years. That means he would have met her while he attended the seminary in Massachusetts. Cipolle was not asked how he met Hennebery Clark.

At one point, Cipolle, who was subpoenaed by the defense, said: “I’m trying to be cooperative but I’m here against my will.”

The priest testified Wednesday that he rented a room in the Etna house Henneberry Clark began renting in May 2018. Cipolle said that when he was a seminarian, instructors had advised students to spend time away from their rectories on their days off. He testified that he rented the room for that purpose and stayed there one or two nights a week.

“Most of the time on my day off I spent riding horses,” Cipolle said. “I wanted to be near there,” where his horse was stabled.

The priest said that he paid Henneberry Clark $500 a month for the room and she paid the landlord, who lived across the street from the Etna property.

Cipolle was at the Etna house on July 13, 2018, when detectives arrived as part of the investigation into Henneberry Clark’s slaying, he testified Wednesday.

Police found Clark’s missing tools in the home. Cipolle invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked about what he knew about how they got there. The priest allegedly told Maine State Police Detective Thomas Pickering during an interview that day that he was in “a romantic relationship” with Henneberry Clark but invoked the Fifth when asked about that interview.

Cipolle said that he was “advising” Henneberry Clark as a parishioner in late June and early July because “Renee had paralyzing fear of Chuck and Phil Clark,” referring to Henneberry Clark’s estranged husband, Frank “Chuck” Clark, 57, of Hampden.

According to earlier testimony, Henneberry Clark was in the process of moving out of her Kennebec Road apartment and into Etna house. She had a protection from abuse order served on her husband on June 15. He was not living at the Hampden apartment when Henneberry Clark was killed.

Henneberry Clark had attempted to take out a protection from abuse order against Philp Clark, but it was denied because the law covers spouses, domestic partners and dating partners but not a brother-in-law. A criminal trespass order against Philip Clark was in place when she was killed.

The priest said that he remains on a voluntary leave of absence from the Roman Catholice Diocese of Portland and is living in Massachusetts.

Cipolle’s attorney, Charles Gilbert of Bangor, said after Wednesday’s hearing that his client has not been offered immunity from prosecution by the Penobscot County district attorney’s office.

The jury could begin deliberating as early as Friday afternoon. The defense team is expected to argue that Clark is guilty of manslaughter, not murder. Clark has been held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail since his arrest.

If convicted of murder, he faces 25 years to life in prison. He faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if found guilty of manslaughter.