Msgr. William J. Lynn, the central figure in the prosecution of the Philadelphia archdiocese for sex abuse, is a free man.
That’s because today, the state Supreme Court, in a one-page decision, announced it would not review a second reversal of Lynn’s original conviction by the state Superior Court.
After serving 33 months in jail, and 15 months under house arrest, Lynn could be on a bus to Philadelphia as early as tomorrow.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn’s lawyer. “We’ll file a bail motion first thing in the morning.”
Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, was convicted in 2012 on one count of endangering the welfare of a child. He was sentenced to three to six years in jail by the trial judge in the case. M. Teresa Sarmina.
The alleged victim in the case, however, was Danny Gallagher, aka “Billy Doe,” who had all kinds of credibility problems, as recounted multiple times on this blog as well as in a Jan. 29th Newsweek
cover story headlined "Catholic Guilt: The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy Behind A Lurid Rape Case.”
This is the second go-around for Lynn with both the state Superior Court, and the state Supreme Court.
In December, 2013, the state Superior Court reversed Lynn's conviction by saying that the state’s original child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn.
District Attorney Seth Williams appealed to the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Lynn got out jail on house arrest. In April 2015, the state Supreme Court ruled in the D.A.'s favor, saying the child endangerment law did apply to Lynn, and he was sent back to jail.
In December 2015, the state Superior Court, for the second time in three years, overturned Lynn's conviction, and ordered a new trial. A panel of three Superior Court judges ruled that the trial court had "abused its discretion" by allowing 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse to be admitted as evidence against Msgr. Lynn.
The 21 cases dated back to 1948, three years before the 65-year-old Lynn was born, and took up at least 25 days of the 32-day trial. In his appeal brief, Lynn's lawyers argued that the prosecution "introduced these files to put on trial the entire Archdiocese of Philadelphia, hoping to convict [Lynn] by proxy for the sins of the entire church."
The Superior Court judges agreed, ruling that the "probative value" of the supplemental cases "did not outweigh its potential for unfair prejudice, and that this potential prejudice was not overcome by the trial court's cautionary instructions."
In their decision, the Superior Court judges wrote that Sarmina "has apparently mistaken quantity for quality in construing the probative value of this evidence en masse." The Superior Court judges further declared that the "probative value of significant quantities of this evidence was trivial or minimal."
The district attorney then appealed the state Superior Court's reversal of Lynn's sentence to the state Supreme Court, hoping he would get lucky again.
In a one-page order today, however, the state Supreme Court announced that "the petition for allowance of appeal is denied." And that the district attorney's "petition for leave to respond to Lynn's answer is denied."
Lynn, according to his lawyer, will be freed because he is an “unconvicted and unsentenced individual who is obviously entitled to reasonable bail, and a new trial.”
Earlier this month, the state parole board voted to release Lynn on bail in October, when his three year minimum sentence was up. But now that the state Supreme Court has ruled it will not review the reversal of Lynn’s conviction, he will be released immediately, according to his lawyer.
Lynn was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institute at Waymart, where he served as prison librarian, earning 19 cents an hour by while he checked books in and out for fellow inmates, and also kept track of periodicals.
When the state Superior Court reversed Lynn's conviction, they also granted him a new trial.
“At least if we have another trial, it will be a fair trial,” Bergstrom said. He meant that if the case is retried, the district attorney will not be able to parade 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse before a jury, as the D.A. did the first time the case was tried back in 2012.
Asked if that trial will happen, Bergstrom said, "That's up to the D.A."
A spokesperson for the D.A. responded that "The Office is currently reviewing the decision."