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Handshake between prosecutor, defendant draws some attention

MANCHESTER — A simple handshake — a worldwide gesture of respect and friendship — received some notoriety this week when the Rev. Msgr. Edward Arsenault reached out his handcuffed hand Wednesday to shake hands with his prosecutor.

The gesture took place in Hillsborough County Superior Court-North as Arsenault was being led away to begin a 4-to 20-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to three felony theft charges.

The handshake was caught on camera by a pool photographer, Associated Press photographer Jim Cole, and was featured on the New Hampshire Union Leader front page and news websites throughout the state.

"It's not the first individual who has gone to prison that I have shaken their hand, and I will do it again," said Assistant Attorney General Jane Young. She said she wished Arsenault good luck as he was being led away, and he offered his hand.

Prosecutors said it's not unusual to shake hands with people they put away.

Scott Murray, the Merrimack County Attorney, said it happened more often when he worked in District Court, a faster system where prosecutors speak face-to-face with defendants before court starts.

"Frequently, they'd stick their hands out. I don't think there's anything terribly unusual about it," he said. Are they sincere? He laughed and said he didn't know.

Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance said a handshake can follow when a defendant and prosecutor agree to a plea bargain. LaFrance said she'll often tell the convict she never wants to see him again, except at the supermarket.

"There are some who we know are pure evil, but for the most part they find themselves in a situation involving drugs, mental health. They need treatment; they're remorseful," LaFrance said.

Young, who has been prosecuting criminals for 24 years, said prosecutors don't relish their job. She'd prefer a crime-free world where she wouldn't have any work.

"In doing my job, you don't lose the grace and dignity of being a human being," she said.

The handshake had an impact on Arsenault's boss, Manchester Bishop Peter Libasci.

"I see Jane Young's accepting that handshake as an example of what we mean when we speak of the dignity of all people," Libasci said.

mhayward@unionleader.com



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