Jury in Sex Abuse Case Has Plenty of Questions

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

The jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case Monday began their first full day of deliberations by asking plenty of questions.

The jury asked the judge to define the elements of an attempted rape, which is the main charge against one defendant, Father James J. Brennan. Judge M. Teresa Sarmina responded that the jury must find that the priest used force, or the threat of force.

The jury wanted to know if they reached a verdict in the case of one defendant, did the judge want them to announce that verdict, or sit on it until they had reached a verdict on the second defendant in the case.

After reflecting on that question, and soliciting opinions from lawyers in the case, the judge told the jury to announce both verdicts at the same time. When they reached one verdict, the judge told the jury, "Just keep deliberating on the other and notify the court at the appropriate time."

The jury also asked to see the prosecution's "smoking gun," a gray folder of handwritten and typed documents found in a locked archdiocese safe in 2006 that included a list of 35 priests accused or convicted of sex abuse.

The list was drawn up by Msgr. William J. Lynn in 1994, and subsequently ordered shredded later that same year by Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua. The list was found in the safe 12 years after four original copies were shredded by the late Msgr. James E. Molloy, at the instructions of the late cardinal.

The jury also asked to see the handwritten note Msgr. Molloy left behind explaining how he shredded four memos, but kept one copy for posterity in the office of the secretary for clergy.

The jury asked to see the personnel files of Father James J. Brennan, a co-defendant, and Father Edward V. Avery, who has already pleaded guilty in the case.

The jury asked to see a transcript of a 2008 church inquest into a sex abuse charge against Father Brennan. The judge, however, told the jury she could not honor that request, because for unexplained reasons, jurors were not permitted to see the transcript.

The judge still has a gag order in effect that prevents lawyers in the case from talking to the press. So no further explanation was forthcoming in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center.

The transcript of the church inquest into the allegation against Father Brennan was read into the record by Msgr. Kevin Quirk, who presided over the inquest. Presumably, the jury could ask to see a transcript of the monsignor's reading.

Throughout the day, the judge kept a tight reign on the proceedings, advising both defendants and their lawyers to stay close enough to the courtroom so that they could be summoned within 15 minutes, in case the jury had more questions.

The jury asked a technical question about a charge of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children that had been filed against Msgr. Lynn regarding his decision to put Father Avery back in ministry, where he subsequently abused a 10-year-old altar boy.

How many conspirators did the jury have to find to establish the conspiracy? The defense lobbied for the most restrictive application, saying the jury would have to find that both Father Avery and Msgr. Lynn participated in the conspiracy. Meanwhile, prosecutors argued for the broadest possible application that would include one or both of the defendants, plus other co-conspirators who weren't even defendants. For example, someone like the late Cardinal Bevilacqua.

Every time the jury asked a question, lawyers, defendants and reporters were left to ponder what it all meant.

Even the judge got involved. Judge Sarmina said she was startled to hear that jurors wanted to know if they should announce separate verdicts. The judge said her first thought was, they've already reached a verdict on one of the defendants, but then she realized, "I think it's just pure speculation." The judge said it was impossible to divine what the jury was up to.

After 11 weeks of trial, lawyers in the case appeared testy. Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington noted that Lynn still had four full-time defense lawyers on the case. That prompted Jeff Lindy, one of those defense lawyers, to mention that he was tired of Blessington mentioning the four defense lawyers when, by Lindy's account, there were seven assistant district attorneys in the courtroom.

Not to be outdone, Blessington mentioned that those seven assistant district attorneys were earning weekly government salaries, while the four defense lawyers were getting paid by the hour. The judge told both men to stop squabbling.

The tension in the courtroom was broken by humor. When Jeff Lindy was looking over a proposed jury instruction from the judge, he complimented her by saying, "your penmanship is very nice."

"Catholic school," the judge deadpanned.


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