Big Dan’s Tavern Defendants: Where Are They Now?

Taunton defense attorney Frank O

During his illustrious 45-year career as a defense attorney, Francis O’Boy has participated in numerous sensational and unusual trials. From religious-cult cases to ritualistic decapitations, O’Boy has seen it all. However, one trial stands out from the rest in terms of historical significance – the Big Dan’s rape trial of 1984.

The case gained notoriety for a reason. Cheryl Ann Araujo, then 21 years old, was allegedly gang-raped on a pool table in a bar called Big Dan’s, located on Acushnet Avenue in New Bedford’s North End. This case became the basis for the 1988 movie “The Accused,” starring Jodie Foster.

For the residents of southeastern Massachusetts, the trial was particularly significant due to the “ethnic card” that came into play. The six men accused of rape were all Portuguese immigrants, while the victim herself was of Portuguese descent. Some individuals within the Portuguese-American communities of Fall River and New Bedford suspected that the accused were being made scapegoats due to their ethnicity and immigrant status. Thousands of people even staged protest marches in both cities during the trial.

Despite the unique circumstances surrounding the trial, a legal muddle never ensued. The process worked, with a single judge presiding over two concurrent trials, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. According to O’Boy, this was an extraordinary occurrence that he does not expect to witness again in his lifetime.

Recently, a symposium was held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Big Dan’s trial. Unfortunately, O’Boy was unable to attend due to illness. Now, he is ready to offer his perspective on what he considers an unparalleled trial in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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Back in 1983, Big Dan’s trial received unprecedented media coverage. It was the first nationally televised criminal trial to receive such exposure, long before the O.J. Simpson trial and the rise of 24-hour cable news. While large news networks aired snippets and updates, local cable TV stations in Fall River and New Bedford provided uninterrupted coverage. O’Boy took advantage of this by ensuring that he had access to video recordings of each day’s proceedings.

Despite concerns that the extensive press coverage would hinder a fair trial and that protests from the Portuguese community might compromise the process, justice prevailed. The juries, sequestered throughout the trial, remained impartial and focused on the courtroom proceedings rather than external influences.

Jury selection was no easy task. Judge Young interviewed about 100 men and women daily to fill the 16 juror seats. O’Boy noted a cultural dichotomy among potential jurors, primarily based on perceived economic class differences rather than Portuguese identity. The juries eventually represented a mix of both Portuguese and non-Portuguese Americans.

The trial revealed a different narrative than what had been portrayed by the media. Contrary to popular perception, Cheryl Ann Araujo did not simply walk into Big Dan’s for a pack of cigarettes and end up being raped on a pool table. She went out that night with a girlfriend, leaving her boyfriend at home watching a football game. She entered the bar alone and shared a drink with another woman before the assault took place.

According to trial testimony, one man initially talked to Araujo before forcing her to the floor and raping her. Then, a second man followed suit. Subsequently, Araujo was held down on a pool table, where two additional men forced her to perform oral sex. Throughout the attacks, O’Boy’s client and another bar patron stood by and watched, doing nothing to stop the assault or call the police. Araujo eventually managed to break free and seek help from three men in a pickup truck.

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Araujo endured an unimaginable ordeal, and the attackers received prison sentences ranging from four to six and a half years. None of them were deported due to their crimes. Sadly, Araujo’s life took another tragic turn when she was killed in a car accident in Florida three years later.

O’Boy acknowledges that his client and the other man who stood by and watched were far from model citizens. However, he emphasizes that they were not being tried for their moral standing or gentlemanly qualities. In contrast, the bartender, who did nothing to intervene or alert the authorities, was more cooperative with the prosecutors, which likely explains why he was not charged.

Despite any inaccuracies that may have been perpetuated by the media, the significance of the Big Dan’s trial remains undeniable. O’Boy recounts the immense publicity, the cultural dichotomy among potential jurors, and the extraordinary efforts made by all involved to ensure a fair trial. He believes that this trial will forever stand as a testament to the efficacy of the legal system.

Francis M. O’Boy, a renowned defense attorney, has dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice. While he may downplay his accomplishments, his inclusion on the list of Super Lawyers multiple times speaks to his expertise and professional achievements.

In November, O’Boy will be participating in a reenactment of the Lizzie Borden ax murder trial in Taunton Superior Court. He eagerly anticipates the opportunity to portray the role of the prosecutor in this famous Fall River case, as he firmly believes that Lizzie Borden was guilty as charged.

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