Jury Deadlocks On "Father Andy;" Defense Lawyer Jumps Ship
By Ralph Cipriano
March 12, 2014
Around 1:30 p.m., the jury in the Father Andrew McCormick sex abuse case sent a note to the judge saying they were hopelessly deadlocked.
Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright told the jury to give it one more try, but nothing changed. Shortly after 4 p.m., the judge declared a mistrial and dismissed the jury after four and a half days of fruitless deliberations.
The day began with the court stenographer reading back more than an hour of testimony from the alleged victim. Meanwhile, the alleged victim sat in the second row of the courtroom, listening to his description of the alleged attack by "Father Andy." Soon, the alleged victim and his mother were sobbing and bowing their heads, while they almost went through a box of tissues.
No juror, however, was seen glancing their way. The judge followed the reading of the testimony by re-reading her instructions to the jury about how to deal with the victim's testimony. If you believe his testimony, the judge had instructed the jury, that alone was sufficient evidence to convict the priest.
Apparently, at least one juror didn't believe the victim. The jury told the judge they did not want to talk to the lawyers in the case, and they left without speaking to reporters. Judge Bright asked Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp if the district attorney's office wanted to retry the case.
"Yes, Your Honor," Kemp said. The judge promptly issued a new trial date of April 28.
When he shows up in court next month for his new trial, however, Father Andy will need a new lawyer. Defense attorney William J. Brennan told the judge he wanted to be relieved of his duties. In effect, Brennan announced he was firing his client. At the defense table, the priest and co-counsel Richard J. Fuschino both looked startled by Brennan's announcement.
"I'm done," Brennan twice told the judge, without offering any explanation as to why.
It was a bizarre and anticlimactic finish to a hard-fought four-day trial.
Judge Bright put the official damper on the proceedings by announcing her gag order on all participants in the trial, including lawyers and witnesses, would remain in effect.
That meant that reporters couldn't talk to Father Andy to find how he felt about dodging the slammer. Reporters couldn't talk to the alleged victim and his family to find out what effect their gut-wrenching ordeal had had on them. They couldn't talk to Bill Brennan and find out why he fired his client.
A relative of the alleged victim and another supporter were overheard saying the jury was split 11-1 in favor of a conviction. But since we have a gag order up, and no jurors talking, it was impossible to verify if this was true.
"The jury is deadlocked," the note from the jury foreman read. "All conversation has ceased."
After the judge sent the jury of nine women and three men in for one last try, the jury foreman wrote another note to the judge that said, "Nothing has changed since your last charge. We are still deadlocked. Our discussions have ceased."
Both sides in the case did a great job.
The accused victim told a straight-forward story with few contradictions. He was backed up by heartbreaking testimony from his mother, father and grandfather, a retired detective who took the first victim's statement in the case.
The prosecutor gave a great closing argument.
The defense did their creative best to dredge up some reasonable doubt. While the alleged victim claimed the priest wore "blue plaid boxers" when he was allegedly attacked back in 1997, the defense produced two witnesses to say the priest wore only "tighty-whities."
The defense caught the prosecution in one flub, when the assistant district attorney claimed that Father Andy had dressed up in civvies and snuck some altar boys in to see an R-rated movie. Brennan brought a DVD of the movie to court and proved it was rated PG-13.
The defense took a gamble by putting the 57-year-old priest up on the stand, and some courtroom observers thought it backfired. Father Andy looked like a not-ready-for-prime-time player. He was awkward and he turned beet-red. But maybe somebody on the jury gave Father Andy points for not hiding behind the fifth amendment.
The jury in the case had a tough job.
The alleged victim was on the witness stand for about an hour and 15 minutes. His alleged attacker was on the witness stand for 15 minutes.
It's a hard job to ask 12 jurors to witness less than 90 minutes of testimony from two flawed men, and then try and figure out what happened between them in a dark room 17 years ago.
The alleged victim's story was that when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in 1997, Father Andy lured him up to his room in the rectory, shoved him down on the bed and attacked him, twice trying to jam his penis in the boy's mouth.
The alleged victim, now 26, waited 15 years before coming forward to say what happened, and identify his attacker as Father Andy.
The priest said it never happened.
There was no testimony from any witness, nor was there any testimony from any second victim of Father Andy, who had been a priest for 32 years.
Brennan's best moment in his closing may have been when he stood by his client and asked the jury, "If this guy's a pervert, is that something you only do once?"
At least one person on the jury must have had a reasonable doubt about that.
In a month, we'll get a chance to do it all over again, but Billy Brennan's gonna skip that party.
It's a shame he can't tell us why.
Nevertheless, Brennan has an enviable record in these priest abuse cases. Most of them end up with the padre in question being hauled off in irons after a conviction.
But twice now, Brennan had wrangled a couple of hung juries for two priests accused of sexually assaulting minors. In 2012, when a jury was convicting Msgr. William J. Lynn of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, that same jury hung 11-1 on whether Brennan's client, Father James J. Brennan [no relation], had attempted to rape a 14-year-old boy.
In that case, Father Brennan admitted he let the boy watch porno, then got into bed with the boy, and sometime during the night, he accidentally spooned the victim. But Father Brennan is a free man.
And so is Father Andy, at least for another month, thanks to Bill Brennan and his faithful sidekick, Richard J. Fuschino.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement today saying that Father McCormick remains on administrative leave.
"He has not and may not administer the sacraments publicly or present himself as a priest in good standing," said the statement from Kenneth A. Gavin, director of communications. "The archdiocese was not involved in Father McCormick's legal defense and did not underwrite its costs."