Key Prosecution Witness Has Meltdown

By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
April 4, 2012

The prosecution witness testified that he had just checked out of a recovery facility ten days earlier. On the witness stand, he admitted to a criminal past, and told a story about being sexually abused by a defendant priest, a story drastically different from the original charges in last year's grand jury report. Then on cross-examination, the witness began crying, and told the judge he was "messing up" his testimony.

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina called for a recess shortly after 3 p.m. Wednesday, about 90 minutes earlier than usual. For members of the prosecution team, it was time to regroup as the witness attempted to compose himself in the bathroom.

Day Seven of the archdiocese sex abuse trial began shortly after 10 a.m. when Mark Bukowski, 30, from Newtown, Bucks County, took the witness stand to testify against Father James J. Brennan, on trial for charges of attempted rape of a 14-year-old. Bukowski, according to Brennan's defense lawyer, is the priest's sole accuser, so the case against Father Brennan should rise or fall with Bukowski. If so, the prosecution may be in trouble.

Bukowski testified that he was a former altar boy whose family had befriended Father Brennan. "He was over our house every weekend," Bukowski testified.

"He was almost like an uncle figure, Bukowski said. The witness described Father Brennan as a close friend and drinking buddy of his mother's. "They really hit it off," he said. "They would drink alcohol heavily together." And then the priest would hop on his motorcycle and drive home drunk, the witness testified.

When he was 12 and 13, Bukowski said he noticed that Father Brennan "always wanted to be in contact with me," and loved wrestling with him. Bukowski said the first time the priest acted inappropriately was when Bukowski complained about sensitive nipples, and the priest volunteered to take a look.

"He had a smile on his face that looked like, oh this is candy," Bukowski testified, adding that he was the candy.

Up until then, Bukowski told the jury, the priest that he called Jim was a buddy. "He would play beer pong with us, he was one of the boys," Bukowski said.

All that changed in 1996, Bukowski testified. The boy said he went over to visit Father Brennan at his apartment. At the time, the priest was on leave from the archdiocese. The two were planning to play golf the next day.

As Bukowski described it, he was eating Captain Crunch cereal "with crunch berries" while the priest was drinking scotch. The two got on the priest's laptop computer. Bukowski testified the priest directed him to pornographic websites and sex chat rooms. Bukowski said the priest inquired about the length of the boy's penis, and then suggested mutual masturbation.

Bukowski began crying as he told the jury that the images of Father Bukowski masturbating in front of him "will never leave my brain." The boy said he wasn't feeling well and wanted to go to sleep, but he ended up sharing Father Brennan's bed.

Bukowski told the jury that while he was lying in bed with his back to the priest, the priest "spooned" him, meaning the priest held him tight with both his arms while the boy could "feel his erect penis between my butt cheeks." Bukowski said he didn't know what to do, and was afraid the priest "would kill me" if he tried to escape.

So Bukowski tearfully told the jury that he wound up praying to God for help, and fell asleep, but not before wetting his pants. Bukowski said both he and the priest were wearing t-shirts and boxer shorts at the time. Bukowski said he told his mother the next day, "I think Jim molested me." But he waited until 2006 to report it to the archdiocese. Bukowski also filed a civil suit against the archdiocese last year that is pending.

The problem with the witness was that Bukowski had to admit that he had been arrested multiple times over the years, for filing a false report to police, forgery, and identity theft. He also admitted to problems with alcohol, marijuana and opiates. As of ten days ago, he was being treated for addiction at Eagleville Hospital, but Bukowski maintained that he had been sober for a year. He also said he had been discharged from the Marines for mental health reasons, and three times had attempted suicide.

The jury wasn't told about another problem with the witness's credibility. Back in 2011, a grand jury report said the victim, referred to as "Mark," "felt Father Brennan's erect penis enter his buttocks." "Mark began to cry over and over again, 'Why is this happening?' as Father Brennan anally raped him," the report said. "Mark fell asleep that night with Father Brennan's penis still in his buttocks."

Father Brennan initially was charged with rape, but now the charge has been downgraded to attempted rape. Since there is a gag order in the case, barring lawyers from talking to the press, there has been no official explanation for the change in charges against Father Brennan.

Bukowski's story that he told in the courtroom Wednesday had a couple of other bewildering turns. Bukowski told the jury that even though Father Brennan had allegedly assaulted him in 1996, three years after the alleged attack, the victim turned to the priest for help. At the time, Bukowski had to do 30 hours of community service for one of his arrests. He said he volunteered to do his community service, namely mowing lawns, at Assumption BVM in Feasterville, where Father Brennan had been transferred by Cardinal Bevilacqua the previous year.

At the church, Bukowski said, the priest called him over to a shed, and when he got there, he saw the priest had his pants down and was fondling his penis. Bukowski said he ran away.

During cross-examination, Bukowski was combative, telling William J. Brennan, the priest defending Father James Brennan, "You're extremely aggressive." When attorney Brennan told Bukowski he didn't know what spooning meant, Bukowski said, "If you've never heard of spooning, you ought to get out more." It was a line that got big laughs from the jury.

During direct testimony, Bukowski had contended that the 1996 spooning incident, which happened after the boy graduated from seventh grade, put him in a downward spiral from which he never recovered. Bukowski said he had been a straight A student, but his grades headed south after the attack, and subsequently began the addictive behavior that led to his criminal arrests and convictions. But Brennan got Bukowski to admit that he had had a depression problem in seventh grade, where he had been "acting out" as the "class clown."

When Brennan began quizzing Bukowski about the details of the alleged attack, such as whether he had called his mother afterwards, Bukowski became angry and yelled, "His erect penis was in between my butt cheeks." That was what mattered, he yelled, not details like whether he called Mom.

Under Brennan's cross, Bukowski also said he was currently on probation for having violated probation. When the prosecutor objected to Brennan's questions, Bukowski appeared confused about whether or not he should answer. At times, he answered questions when objections were sustained. He didn't get much sympathy from the judge.

"Be quiet," the judge yelled at Bukowski. "Sorry, I can't hear out of my right ear," the witness apologized. "Well, maybe it would have made sense to tell somebody about that sooner," she lectured him.

Under cross, Bukowski said all of the crimes that he had been arrested for "were drug-related." Again, he blamed the priest for his addictive behavior, and criminal record. He was trying to "numb the pain," he said.

Attorney Brennan scoffed at this, saying the one incident, which Brennan has described as a "pelvic bump," had prompted "a decade-long crime rampage." That brought an objection from the prosecutor, which was sustained by Judge Sarmina. Attorney Brennan also kept questioning Bukowski about why he took a subsequent motorcycle ride with the priest, and then turned to him for help with his community service when Bukowski claimed he was "in fear for [his] life."

Bukowski said he took the motorcycle ride because his parents convinced him to give the priest another chance. He said he went to the priest for help with his community service at the suggestion of his mother. He also blamed his parents, saying the first duty of a parent is to protect their children, but that his parents had allowed "a sexual predator" to enter their home.

After the jury requested an afternoon break -- maybe they saw something the judge didn't -- the witness began crying. He said it was attorney Brennan's fault. "I'm up here in tears, and you're being too aggressive."

"I see him crying," Brennan countered. "I'm cutting him a break." Brennan agreed to stop the cross-examination for the day because he didn't want the jury to see the witness crying. The cross-examination is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Thursday. Before he left, the judge gave Bukowski a stern warning about not discussing his testimony with anybody, including the prosecutors.

After court was over, two courtroom spectators saw Bukowski alone outside the Criminal Justice Center, running down 12th Street. Both spectators agreed he should have had a chaperone.


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