Vermont Man Pleads Innocent in Crucifix Case

June 15, 2011 - 3:59 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont man charged with possessing a religious artifact that dates to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ remained held on $10,000 bail Wednesday after pleading not guilty.

"The Relic of the True Cross," which Christians believe is part of the cross upon which Christ was crucified more than 2,000 years ago, was stolen last year from a Boston cathedral. It consists of a sliver of wood inside a round brass case about 2 inches wide. The back of the case has a seal stamped with the pope's ring.

The artifact, an 18th century gift to the Rev. Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, Boston's first bishop, was taken from a small glass box in an inner chapel of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on June 30, 2010. The Cathedral held prayer services each week while it was missing and another to observe its return.

No one has been charged in the theft.

Earl Frost, 35, is charged with receiving stolen property, a felony, after telling police last August that he had it. He says he got it from someone in Rhode Island, but that he didn't steal it.

Vermont State Police say it came to their attention when Frost's partner, Richard Duncan of Royalton, called to report they'd had a fight.

Duncan told police he had information authorities should know, but insisted it come from Frost. Frost then told them the spat was over the artifact, which he wanted to return to the church — not to police, officials said. He gave it to police, but he wasn't immediately charged because investigators were unsure of its authenticity.

Church officials later traveled from Boston to Vermont to verify its authenticity because they had received several false reports from people saying they had it, according to an affidavit by Trooper Steven Cuttita.

Frost, who was arrested in New Hampshire after that on unrelated charges, was arraigned in Windsor County Superior Court on Tuesday. His appearance was delayed for months because he refused to be extradited to Vermont, prosecutor Robert Sand said Wednesday. Frost's next court date is July 12.

His attorney, Dan Stevens, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Sand said the value of the item is about $3,000.

"The church sets a value, and eBay Inc. sets a value," Sand told the Valley News. "The standard definition of fair market value is what a willing buyer will pay a willing seller."

The item is now under heavier security at the Boston cathedral, said Archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon.

"The relic has been returned and it's in a safe place," he said Wednesday. "We have stepped up security at the Cathedral with the alarm system. We've definitely improved security."

He said the church forgives Frost but that it's up to law enforcement officials to decide on the appropriate prosecution.

"We are in the business of forgiving. We forgive and we leave it in the good hands of the law enforcement folks. We're grateful for what they did," Donilon said.