Lawyers Seek Delay in Clergy Sex Abuse Trial
By John P. Martin
March 23, 2012
Defense lawyers today asked a judge to consider delaying the looming conspiracy and child sex-abuse trial of two Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests, arguing a surprise guilty plea Thursday by a third defendant drastically altered the case.
The attorneys for Msgr. William J. Lynn and the Rev. James J. Brennan said that broad publicity of Thursday's plea by defrocked priest Edward Avery could have tainted the jury for their trial.
They asked Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to consider picking a new panel or, at the minimum, individually polling jurors before opening statements on Monday to make sure they had not seen the news or could be fair.
"We don't mind the jury we got," Jeffrey Lindy, one of Lynn's lawyers, told the judge. But he said it was unrealistic to believe they had not heard about Avery's plea or that it would color their view of the other defendants.
Sarmina asked the lawyers to send her written legal arguments over the weekend and promised to rule before opening statements on begin Monday.
The lawyers spent more than two weeks choosing six men and six women jurors, plus 10 alternates, for a trial projected to last three months or more. The jurors were told who the defendants were and the charges against them.
Avery pleaded guilty Thursday to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999 and conspiring, with Lynn and other unnamed church officials, to endanger children.
Under the terms of a negotiated plea, the 69-year-old former priest was sentenced to 2 ? to 5 years in prison. The plea agreement does not require Avery to cooperate or testify against the other defendants, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington said.
But Blessington told the judge that prosecutors should be allowed to tell jurors that Avery pleaded guilty.
Lynn's attorneys said they would challenge that. "The inference, of course, is that Avery is pleading guilty to the very conspiracy that Monsignor Lynn has also been charged with," lawyer Thomas Bergstrom said.
Lynn, 61, faces conspiracy and endangerment charges stemming from his role as secretary for clergy between 1992 and 2004.
Prosecutors say he recommended priests such as Avery for assignments that gave them access to minors despite knowing or suspecting they would sexually assault children.
Brennan, 49, is accused of conspiracy and child-sex assault charges for allegedly raping a 14-year-old boy in 1996.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him @JPMartinInky on Twitter.