Jury in Church Abuse Case Says It Is Deadlocked

By Jon Hurdle and Erik Eckholm
New York Times
June 20, 2012

Monsignor William J. Lynn walked to the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

PHILADELPHIA In its 12th day of deliberations, the jury in the landmark trial of a Roman Catholic Church official accused of covering up sexual abuses by other priests said Wednesday that it was deadlocked on four of the five charges in the trial.

"We, the jury, are at a hung jury status on all charges except for one," jurors said in a note that was read aloud by Judge M. Teresa Sarmina of the Court of Common Pleas.

The judge instructed the jury to keep trying to reach unanimous agreement on all five charges. The church official, Msgr. William J. Lynn, is accused of two counts of endangering the welfare of children and one of conspiracy. A priest, the Rev. James J. Brennan, faces charges of endangerment and attempted rape. Deliberations will resume on Friday.

Monsignor Lynn, 61, served as secretary for clergy for the 1.5 million-member Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, in charge of recommending jobs for priests and investigating charges of sexual abuse. He is the first church official in the United States to be tried on accusations of enabling the depredations of priests, rather than committing abuses himself. Prosecutors said he had repeatedly played down credible accusations of abuse, lied to inquiring parents and parish officials about predatory priests and reassigned them to unwary parishes.

In a trial lasting more than two months, the prosecution offered abundant evidence, legal experts said, that the archdiocese had been lax in responding to credible reports of sexual abuses by dozens of priests, concealing them to avoid bad publicity and lawsuits, and that Monsignor Lynn had not taken forceful action to keep some of those priests away from children.

But prosecutors were hampered because most of the examples fell outside the statute of limitations. And they had difficulty pinpointing blame on Monsignor Lynn a single, midlevel official when there was evidence that other, more senior church officials, starting with the cardinal at the time, were involved in efforts to hush up the scandal.

The jury's questions during deliberations also suggested that it had trouble understanding some of the judge's legal explanations and was debating whether Monsignor Lynn had intentionally put children at risk or engaged in a criminal conspiracy.

Any deadlock would be a disappointment for the prosecutors, said William Spade, a defense lawyer in Philadelphia who formerly worked in the district attorney's office and participated in earlier investigations of the archdiocese. But even if a mistrial is declared on most charges, Mr. Spade said, a conviction of Monsignor Lynn on just one of the endangerment counts would set an important precedent.

In their note to the judge, jurors said that they were firmly divided on three of the charges, while two holdouts were still considering their positions on the other unresolved charge. The jury, composed of seven men and five women, did not reveal which charges were in dispute or how the majority voted.

Judge Sarmina gave the jurors what is known as a Spencer charge, directing them to keep trying and asking them to re-examine the evidence with fresh minds.

"A juror should not hesitate to re-examine his or her own views," the judge told jurors, who entered the courtroom at about 12:20 p.m. after two and a half hours of deliberation on Wednesday.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers sparred anew, with Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington urging the judge to tell the jurors that they must reach a decision.

A lawyer for Father Brennan, in contrast, urged the judge to bring the lengthy trial to a speedy conclusion, declaring a mistrial if jurors could not quickly agree.

"Take the verdict that they have agreed on, and let's wrap this up," said Father Brennan's lawyer, William Brennan, who is not related.

Judge Sarmina did neither, instead instructing the jury to go back to work and offering to reread any testimony that jurors felt would allow them to reach unanimity.

The jury was sent home on Wednesday afternoon and will not resume deliberations until Friday because a juror had a pressing family problem on Thursday.


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