Prospective Juror Has a Priest Cousin Who Wrote a Love Letter to an Altar Boy
By Ralph Cipriano
January 8, 2013
Prospective Juror No. 61 told a judge today that his first cousin was a priest who got in trouble over "something he wrote to a fifth-grader."
The prospective juror mentioned to the judge that he had talked over his potential jury service last night with his wife, something the judge had specifically asked him not to do, and that the wife suggested that maybe you should mention your first cousin.
Father Michael Murtha was a priest at St. Anselm's in Northeast Philadelphia who in 1995 was found by a roommate to have a trove of pornographic magazines and videos stashed in his rectory bedroom. The roommate also discovered a love letter that Father Murtha had written but never sent to a seventh-grade altar boy that described the priest's sexual fantasies involving the youngster, signed your "secret lover."
Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti challenged the candidacy of Prospective Juror 61. "I am disturbed about that relation,"Judge Ellen Ceisler said, as well as the fact that "he talked with his wife."
The judge granted Cipolletti's challenge to boot Prospective Juror No. 61. It was the most peculiar interview of the day as the judge and lawyers in the case slogged through questionnaires from 129 prospective jurors, before finally choosing six more, for a total of ten jurors in the case.
Before they're done, the judge and lawyers in the case have to choose two more regular jurors, plus six alternates. Then, the sex abuse case against Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic teacher Bernard Shero is expected to begin next Monday.
The prosecution has used a total of five challenges to eject prospective jurors. One was spent on Prospective Juror No. 44, a young white woman who graduated from LaSalle University, went to Mass every Sunday, and sang in her church choir.
"You've been a Catholic your whole life?" the judge asked.
"Yes," she replied.
The capper for the prosecution was when the woman said she recognized the name of one of the defense's expert witnesses as her old high school principal.
"She seems like a nice lady," the prospective juror said of the former principal.
Cipollettti argued that Prospective Juror No. 44 would view the testimony of her old school principal differently from other witnesses.
The judge didn't agree.
"She seemed fair to me," the judge said, before denying Cipolletti motion to strike the juror for cause.
Cipolletti then used up one of his challenges to get rid of Prospective Juror No. 44.
Another challenge was used on Prospective Juror No. 53, a doctor of entomology who described himself as "a bug guy."
He was also close friends with a former neighbor who was a retired Catholic priest.
The defense used a challenge to get rid of Prospective Juror No. 57, a black woman who was a minister for the Mount Airy Church of God in Christ. She was also molested as child when she was 11 or 12. The woman said she never reported the abuse, by a friend of the family, but had to run away from home to escape it.
The victim in the case against Engelhardt and Shero is a former 10-year-old altar boy.
Despite the fact she was too was a victim of sex abuse, Prospective Juror No. 57 told the judge she knew that accusers sometimes make up stories. She also knew that being a sex abuse victim didn't necessarily have to be a life sentence.
"I know you can be healed," she said.
Judge Ceisler said she thought that Prospective Juror No. 57 "takes that obligation very seriously" to be fair and impartial. "She would be fair," the judge argued.
But Burton A. Rose, the lawyer for Shero, said he was worried that Prospective Juror No. 57 "may not be able to follow the law," suggesting that she might be inclined to answer to a higher authority than the lady on the bench in Courtroom 304.
So the defense used a motion to strike.
The judge and lawyers did agree on six jurors -- all of whom were men.
Juror No. 5 was a white male Catholic whose daughter was a student at Holy Family University. Juror No. 6 was a white male who was a supervisor for the city of Philadelphia's Parking Authority.
Juror No. 7 was a young white man who was a newlywed, and worked as a rating specialist at the Veterans Administration. He was also a Protestant married to a practicing Catholic. Juror No. 7 told the judge he got married in a Catholic church and attended pre-Cana conferences.
The judge cautioned Juror No. 7 that his wife might have some strong opinions on the case, but that Juror No. 7 was "absolutely forbidden from discussing the case" with his new wife.
"You won't talk to her about it?" the judge asked.
Juror No. 7 pledged to keep his mouth shut.
Juror No. 8 was a young Hispanic male who was a diesel mechanic.
Juror No. 9 was a black man who was a child support specialist for the state of Pennsylvania.
Finally, Juror No. 10 was a black man who retired from the railroad in 2011. Juror No. 10 told the judge he had been married for 31 years and had two children who went to Temple University.