Jury Stymied in LA Priest Abuse Trial, May Hear New Arguments

By Linda Deutsch
The Associated Press, carried in San Francisco Chronicle [Los Angeles CA]
February 17, 2006

The jury deliberating child molestation charges against a retired Roman Catholic priest said Friday they were deadlocked on four charges against him but reached agreement on one charge.

The single verdict they returned was kept sealed by Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe, who ordered the jurors to return on Tuesday for further proceedings in the trial of Michael Wempe.

When the judge asked the jurors if there was anything he could do to help them reach a decision on other counts, they began to ask questions.

The judge said perhaps it would help if attorneys on both sides were allowed to present further arguments in an effort to answer the questions. He said he would consider allowing that.

The one count on which the panel reached a verdict involved oral copulation allegedly committed in a car.

Wempe has acknowledged that he molested 13 boys in the 1970s and 1980s, but those charges were dismissed after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the statute of limitations on the crimes.

The current case alleged that from 1990 to 1995 he molested a boy known as Jayson B., now a grown man. The defense claims the accuser fabricated the claims to get even with Wempe for molesting his two brothers.

Jayson B. rushed to the courtroom when word first came that a verdict might be announced. Both he and Wempe were in the court when the judge made his decision.

Three of the jurors raised their hands and asked questions that were specific to the evidence and seemed to be seeking more testimony rather than a clarification of what they had already heard.

One woman said, "Could we get a demonstration of a driver and a passenger on the driver's lap?"

Another woman said she wanted to know what days of the week Mass was said at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and what days Wempe had days off from the hospital, where was a chaplain.

Another juror said, "Can we get extra information?" She also asked if it was possible for jurors to question the attorneys.

Rappe said that was impossible because they are not witnesses.

But the judge said he felt that it was permissible for jurors to come back next week and submit a list of questions they feel need to be resolved. Then, he said, he would give attorneys a specific number of minutes in which to argue those points.

Rappe also suggested that a weekend off might help the jurors get a new perspective.

"Sometimes analysis is paralysis," he said. "And you've been analyzing quite a lot."

The judge said it had been a long trial and the jurors had not spend an inordinate amount of time in deliberations.

The panelists agreed to come back on Tuesday, after the Presidents Day holiday weekend.


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