Progress on Culling Pool of Potential Jurors for Sex-abuse Trial

By John P. Martin
Philadelphia Inquirer
February 23, 2012

By late Wednesday, about 200 people had been disqualified as potential jurors for the child-sex abuse and endangerment trial against three current or former Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests.

That signaled progress. It meant that almost 100 others had made the cut, based on their responses to a questionnaire. Those people will be asked to return next week for courtroom interviews.

Just two days into the selection process, the pool of remaining candidates was large enough that one lawyer wondered if court officials needed to keep calling people to the courthouse.

"We have enough to get a jury now," attorney Michael Wallace said, though others weren't as sure.

Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has scheduled opening arguments for March 26. Prosecutors and the lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn have said they would not be prepared to start early.

Lynn, a former administrator for the archdiocese, faces conspiracy and endangerment charges for allegedly recommending abusive priests for assignments that gave them access to children. His codefendants - the Rev. James J. Brennan and Edward Avery, a former priest - are accused of sexually assaulting two boys in separate incidents in the 1990s.

For hours Wednesday, prosecutors and defense lawyers gathered around two courtroom tables, sorting through questionnaires from hundreds of prospective jurors. From them, they hope to choose a dozen jurors and 10 alternates for a trial that could last four months.

The surveys are confidential, but some of the questions and responses seeped into the courtroom conversation. Scores of jurors were ruled out after citing conflicts or claiming that serving would constitute a personal or economic hardship.

The lawyers and judge did not accept every excuse. One woman said she could not be a juror because she was an observant Jew and would not be able to be present on holy days this spring. She also said that being the mother of two children might taint her ability to judge the case fairly.

Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho said neither was enough to disqualify her. "I say bring her back," Coelho told the judge.

Sarmina agreed.

Other decisions seemed clearer.

William Brennan, the lawyer for Father Brennan, had scanned only a few questionnaires when he found one from a man who wrote: "As a Catholic, I am disgusted by these allegations."

Brennan, no relation, cited the comment aloud as the kind of bias facing his client. But it wasn't clear if that juror made the cut.

The selection process is scheduled to continue Thursday.

Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 215-854-4774,








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