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AP connects therapist accused of sexual assault to a dark past

FILE - Peter Dushame, center, is led out of Nashua District Court in Nashua, N.H., Oct. 3, 1989, after his arraignment on a negligent homicide charge. Dushame, who was found guilty of manslaughter in the drunk-driving death of a 10-year-old, spent 12 years in prison, earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology and changing his name to Peter Stone. As a licensed therapist, in July 2021 he was arrested on charges he sexually assaulted a female client in North Conway, N.H. (AP Photo/File)

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In March, a woman emailed Concord, New Hampshire, newsperson Holly Ramer, saying that after being sexually abused by her therapist she discovered he had spent 12 years in prison “for a crime that received a lot of attention at the time.” The accuser had been talking to the founder of a peer support network for people exploited by therapists, and the founder recommended she call Ramer, who is known in the region for her deep coverage of sex abuse at New Hampshire’s youth detention center.

As soon as the woman mentioned Lacey Packer, a 10-year-old girl who died in 1989, Ramer remembered local news coverage of her death caused by a drunken driver named Peter Dushame. Over the next few months, Ramer obtained and reviewed hundreds of pages of documents about Dushame’s time in prison, his name change to Peter Stone, and his licensing as a drug and alcohol counselor. She also reviewed dozens of news accounts from his 1989 arrest and trial.

In addition to a lengthy interview with the woman accusing Stone of abuse, Ramer researched state laws on name changes and reached out to legal and ethics experts, members of the board who granted Stone parole in 2002, lawyers for the prosecution and defense, and Stone himself. She also sent a letter to the parents of the girl Stone killed in 1989. After an hourlong call, the girl’s mother agreed to be part of the story. Both the accuser and the parents thanked Ramer for her sensitive reporting.

Stone’s 1989 arrest and conviction had been heavily covered at the time, including a 6,000-word feature by The Boston Globe. The Globe called him “the most notorious drunk driver in New England history.” But when he lost his counseling license and was arrested last year, regional news outlets were unaware of his name change and previous record. Ramer alone made that connection.

The Concord Monitor used Ramer’s story on its front page, and Boston’s WMUR-TV ran the story both online and on the air, crediting AP’s investigation. Owing largely to a carefully crafted social promotion plan, Ramer’s story ranked amomg AP’s top for pageviews and reader engagement over the weekend.

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