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Joubert trial day one: unsettling videos of young boys

Robert Joubert

Robert Joubert

The video clips are copious in quantity and unsettling in focus: the clothed crotch of a young boy playing soccer; a sleeping child’s half-opened lips, and then his hand, and then his naked back and dark-colored boxer shorts.

In one, the same sleeping child appears awake and walking through a bedroom. He’s wearing a basketball jersey and sucking on a red lollipop, which at one point he playfully yanks out of his mouth, forcing a smacking noise with his lips as he does. A few seconds pass, and then the camera zooms in on the boy’s face and a man off-camera instructs him to “do it again.”

These images are just a portion of what police officers said they found when Robert Joubert’s Manchester home was searched last year, during a probe into allegations that the former youth baseball coach molested multiple young boys over two decades, beginning in 1984. Shot with a handheld video camera and recorded onto VHS tapes, they depicted boys – both named and unidentified – in innocuous scenes: a sporting event; a home.

In many of them, however, the camera seems less interested in the setting than on specific body parts of the boys in it: their hands, crotches, midsections. And three of those clips, which were the focus yesterday on day one of the first of Joubert’s multiple anticipated trials, showed something criminal, prosecutors said.

Joubert, 59, was arrested last June and has since been accused of soliciting sexual favors from several young boys. He is awaiting trials in both state and federal courts. In the trial that began yesterday – the first of two in federal court in Concord – Joubert faces one count of possessing child pornography and three of filming the same sleeping child as he helped him masturbate, on unspecified dates between 2002 and 2004, when the boy was about 12 years old.

Clips from those alleged incidents were shown only to jurors and Concord police Sgt. Sean Ford, but the audio, including heavy breathing, could clearly be heard in the courtroom. Ford was the lead Concord detective investigating the case.

But Joubert’s attorney, Bjorn Lange, told jurors yesterday in his opening remarks that they shouldn’t be so quick to assume Joubert filmed those clips. That they were discovered on some dusty tapes in his basement is not proof alone that he did anything wrong, Lange said.

“If you hold the government to its burden of proof, if you do that, you’ll find my client is not guilty,” he told jurors.

The alleged victim in the trial, which continues today, played on baseball teams that Joubert coached and also lived with him for a period in Hillsboro, while Joubert was dating the boy’s mother. Many of the clips found in Joubert’s possession last year showed the boy inside a home, at times sleeping, at other times watching television or walking about.

In one, which was displayed throughout the courtroom, the boy played a video game. As the camera hones in on his face, he says, “Bob, turn it off.”

The camera continues to roll.

“You ever listen?” the boy goes on, clearly annoyed.

“Nope,” a man replies off-camera.

“I don’t want to be taped or filmed,” the boy says.

“That’s too bad,” the man responds. “Deal with it.”

The alleged victim, who is now 21, said his relationship with Joubert turned physical after about a year.

“He started touching me,” the man said. “Or, actually, he started asking me to touch him, and do favors for him. Sexual favors.”

In all, Joubert is accused of physically exploiting five children and is facing state charges in Merrimack County and Hillsborough County superior courts. He came under investigation in March 2012 after a Concord woman, the mother of one of the men Joubert is accused of assaulting, contacted the police in York, Maine, where he ran a baseball academy.

That disclosure set off a firestorm of allegations from other boys, who said Joubert had bribed them to perform sexual favors for him on numerous occasions dating back to 1984.

Though the trial yesterday concerned only the 21-year-old, three others – all grown men now – took the stand, recounting Joubert’s alleged sexual advances. Oftentimes, according to the men, Joubert offered something in exchange for sexual favors, such as a snack or new sporting equipment.

One man, now 32, said he’d met Joubert at a behavioral center in Northfield, and that Joubert had continued the relationship once the boy left the program in about 1993. Joubert took him to a Celtics game, he said, and he would occasionally invite him to spend a weekend at his house, which was then in Weare. He said while he was sleeping one night, Joubert grabbed his hand and placed it on his penis.

“I said, ‘Bob? Bob?’ ” the man testified. “About 20 seconds passed and then he said, ‘Oh, I thought you were having a bad dream and came to check on you.’ ”

Another man, now 38, said Joubert pushed him to perform sexual favors on him twice, once when he was 9 and once when he was 11. The first time occurred during a shopping trip, the man said. Joubert took a detour on the way to a store, parking near a pond and proceeding to grab the boy’s hand and pull it over to his crotch.

That man agreed last June to record for the police a conversation he had with Joubert, in which he tried to get him to confess to having molested him and others.

“I’ve done some things wrong. I’m not perfect,” Joubert says at one point in the conversation, according to a recording played yesterday.

At another point, the alleged victim states, “But what if me not saying something has led to it happening to somebody else?”

“No, nothing has happened with anyone,” Joubert replies.

In April, Judge Joseph Laplante denied a motion by Lange to block evidence, including the VHS tapes, seized during the police search last year, because, he said, the recorded conversation had been an unjustified basis for the search warrant. Joubert never admitted to anything in the tape, Lange argued.

But Laplante sided with prosecutors, saying it was true that Joubert had denied doing anything to the other accusers, but not to the man with the wire.

Yesterday, Lange tried to undercut the credibility of both the 32- and 38-year-old accusers – who are now friends – noting that each has a criminal record. The 38-year-old said he had been convicted of forging checks when he was 17. He said he was also accused years ago by his mother of having stolen a watch from a customer where they both worked.

“Terrible thing to be falsely accused,” Lange remarked.

“It’s no good,” the man replied.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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