Jurors: Evidence Would Not Warrant Criminal Conviction of Priest

By Sid Schwartz
Gazette Staff
September 8, 2005

Three of the Rock County jurors who heard a former Janesville priest's defamation lawsuit said the evidence wouldn't be enough to convict the priest of sexual abuse in criminal court.

But two of them told The Janesville Gazette that the evidence convinced them to a lower standard of proof that Rev. Gerald Vosen's accuser told the truth.

"I think the jury's charge was that we needed to be more than 50 percent sure. We didn't have to be absolutely, positively convinced," a Janesville woman on the jury said.

"It wasn't as severe as a criminal trial. I think that was the prime thing in my mind," she said.

In March 2004, Vosen filed a defamation lawsuit against a man, now 26, who told Catholic Church authorities that Vosen sexually assaulted him when he was in fifth and sixth grade at St. John Vianney Catholic School in Janesville.

The 26-year-old man's defense to Vosen's lawsuit was that he was telling the truth.

After hearing three days of testimony, the 12-member jury decided unanimously Aug. 4 in favor of Vosen's accuser.

The jurors had been instructed to decide whether "the greater weight of credible evidence" convinced them "to a reasonable certainty" that the man was telling the truth. Unanimity wasn't required. Ten of 12 would have been sufficient for a verdict.

"I guess we kind of thought, 'Why would he lie?' I guess a lot of jurors felt that he was abused. With the things that he said, you just had to think was some sort of assault there, or something," one of the jurors said.

But the woman juror, one of six women on the jury, said the evidence was "not a lot beyond 50 percent" in favor of Vosen's accuser.

"It was a difficult decision," she said.

In criminal court, "beyond 50 percent" is not enough to convict. Juries in criminal cases are instructed to find a person guilty if they are unanimously convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt" by the evidence.

"Reasonable doubt" is defined in jury instructions as "such a doubt as would cause a person of ordinary prudence to pause or hesitate when called upon to act in the most important affairs of life." It is the highest standard of proof in Wisconsin law.

The jury in the Vosen case was instructed to use the ordinary standard of proof, the lowest in Wisconsin law.

The alternate juror, who heard all the evidence but didn't get to help form the verdict, said his vote would have gone in favor of Vosen.

"I was pretty convinced it didn't happen," the Beloit man said.

"I think it was just because (Vosen's accuser) was gay and that he needed an excuse for his parents that he was gay," the Beloit man said. "The attorney for Vosen, that's what he said in his closing arguments."

Vosen's attorney, Patrick McDonald, has filed a request asking Judge John Roethe to reverse the jury's decision, saying there was no credible evidence against his client.

Attorneys will argue McDonald's request at a hearing Wednesday, Oct. 5.