The "Read-back Jury" Frustrates Judge, Lawyers in Archdiocese Sex Abuse Case
By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
June 12, 2012
They're not a runaway jury, they're a read back jury.
Jurors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case keep asking for more testimony to be read back to them. On Monday, the jurors asked for the transcript of Father James J. Brennan's canonical hearing to be read back. That's the record of the 2008 church inquest made into sex abuse allegations against Father Brennan by Mark Bukowski. That was two hours of fun, but at least the jurors asked for something that had originally been part of the evidence presented at trial in this case.
On Tuesday, the jury asked for a read back on a document that had not been entered into evidence during the trial, now in its 12th week in Courtroom 304. Specifically, the jury asked for a transcript of Mark Bukowski's testimony to the canonical court that investigated his allegations of sex abuse against Father Brennan. Bukowski has alleged that back in 1996, when he was 14, Father Brennan attempted to rape him.
This document was not part of the evidence in this trial, but excerpts were used by both prosecutors and defense lawyers to buttress their cases. Tuesday, the jury asked Judge M. Teresa Sarmina for permission to read the entire document, and the judge granted that request over the strenuous objections of Father Brennan's defense attorney, William J. Brennan.
Brennan complained that by allowing the transcript to be read into the record, the judge was in effect permitting the alleged victim, Mark Bukowski, to make a second appearance in the courtroom, only this time he could not be subject to cross-examination.
"I think you're dead wrong on the law," Brennan told the judge.
When the judge asked who was going to read back Bukowski's testimony to the jury, defense attorney Brennan suggested that the judge bring back Mark Bukowski himself to read it. During a courtroom break, out in the hallway, Brennan threw his cell phone against a wall in disgust.
The judge also had the court reporter read back Jack Rossiter's report of his interview with Father Brennan. Rossiter was a former FBI agent hired by the archdiocese to investigate allegations of sex abuse. The read backs of the Bukowski testimony and the Rossiter testimony went on for more than an hour Tuesday afternoon.
But the fun part was, when the jury was finished hearing the latest read backs, they retired to the jury room, and 90 minutes later, they sent a note to the judge asking for more read backs. The jury asked the judge to have Mark Bukowski's testimony read back to them, which took up two days in court. The jury also asked for the testimony of Mark Bukowksi's mother to be read back. The jury also asked for the testimony of a former 10-year-old altar boy to be read back.
The former altar boy was the victim sexually abused by Father Edward V. Avery, who has pleaded guilty to involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a minor.
The jury's latest requests did not sit well with Judge Sarmina.
"I'm certainly not gonna have the whole trial re-read for them," she said. "We can't try this case again," William J. Brennan agreed. "You can tell them when they're this confused, it's called reasonable doubt."
"They have to do their job," Brennan said of the jury.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington argued that as far as the prosecution was concerned, the read backs could go on indefinitely. "Give 'em what they want, Your Honor," Blessington told the judge.
But Judge Sarmina said she wasn't going to do it. "We cannot go back and read days and days of testimony to them," the judge said. Sarmina said she would go along with reading portions of testimony back to clear up disputes among jurors. But there would be no more wholesale reading of court transcripts.
Jurors left court shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday. They have tomorrow off, but are scheduled to return to court at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. They are also scheduled to deliberate Friday.