Priest's Trial Proves That the Opinions That Count Are the Jurors'

By Bill McClellan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [St. Louis MO]
May 24, 2003

Jury deliberations are like somebody else's marriage. An outsider has no clue.

Still, we speculate. For 14 hours on Wednesday and Thursday, a bunch of outsiders hung around in the hall of the third floor of the St. Louis County Courthouse and speculated about the deliberations of the jury that had just heard the state's case against the Rev. Bryan Kuchar. He is the Catholic priest who was charged with six counts of statutory sodomy. The state alleged that Kuchar had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy in 1995.

The dynamics of the trial would have shocked anybody who stepped into our world from an earlier time. The state was alleging that a priest had molested a child. The defense was alleging that the cops were lying. Perverted priests. Lying cops. These are the stories that juries believe these days. Where have you gone, Bing Crosby?

The defense needed to vilify the cops in order to explain away Kuchar's confession. His what? Yes, the priest confessed. In some detail, and on tape.

The two defense attorneys, J. Martin Hadican and Scott Rosenblum, tried to convince the jury that the cops had somehow coerced the confession out of an innocent man. To that end, they put their guy on the stand, and he told the jury that Jennifer Williams, the lead detective in the case, had yelled at him. In addition to that, the priest said that the interview room at police headquarters was small, and he was feeling claustrophobic, and the cops made him take off his clothes, and finally they told him that nobody would press charges and he could go home if he were to just confess to child molestation.

Well, gosh.

These stories about coerced confessions always sound better when the defendant is a 19-year-old kid of limited intelligence who has been handcuffed to the radiator for 17 hours. But Kuchar is 37 and seems to be an intelligent fellow. Furthermore, he had been in custody for about three hours when he made his taped confession. By the way, he had to change his clothes after he confessed, and the change of clothes had nothing to do with harassment, but the simple fact that fellows in the jail wear jumpsuits, not priestly garb.

Hadican is a fine lawyer, and Rosenblum is terrific, but still, most courtroom observers figured the state's case was going to carry the day. Looking back on things, perhaps there was some group psychology thing going on. The courtroom had been crowded, and almost everybody was there to support the alleged victim of the alleged crimes. In fact, the only priest who came to the trial was rooting for the state. He told me a story about being on an elevator, and hearing some guy say, "Pervert." This priest was an older man, and he remembered when nobody would have thought that, let alone say it. So maybe everybody was reinforcing everybody else's thoughts, but when the case went to the jury Wednesday afternoon, most of us didn't figure the deliberations would take very long.

But Wednesday afternoon turned into Wednesday night. Sometime around eight o'clock, the verdict-waiters were joined by a group from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. We all filed into the courtroom at 10:30 to hear the judge dismiss the jurors for the night.

We resumed the wait Thursday morning. Mid-morning, the bailiff went out to get soft drinks for the jury. "Let me guess," I said. "Eleven Cokes and one Seven-Up." Surely, there was only one holdout, maybe two.

But what do I know about somebody else's marriage? When the jury was unable to reach a verdict Thursday afternoon and the judge declared a mistrial, we learned that the jury was evenly split. One juror spoke to reporters, and he indicated that some of his fellow jurors weren't willing to believe ill of a man in a Roman collar, and others were too willing to believe ill of police officers.

Six to six. None of us in the hallway would ever have guessed. You think you're watching "Law and Order" and it's really "The Bells of St. Mary's."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.