Billy Doe's Junkie Hustle

By Ralph Cipriano
Big Trial
February 28, 2013

Michael E. Wallace, criminal defense lawyer, has a cardinal rule: don't ever believe anything your client tells you.

Wallace's client in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case was Edward V. Avery, a defrocked priest with a history of sexually abusing young boys. So when Avery told Wallace he didn't touch "Billy Doe" -- the former altar boy who accused Avery of raping him -- Wallace was skeptical.

Billy Doe -- Bigtrial photo by Jon Anderson

"Father, you're saying Mass for me this Sunday," Wallace told the former priest. "And next Sunday. And the Sunday after that."

Wallace had Avery stop by his law office on the 12th floor of 2 Logan Square. Every Sunday morning, the lawyer would serve the former priest a cup of tea, and then grill him about the details of the crime. "After 65 Sundays of cross-examination, I believed him," Wallace said. But that didn't mean Wallace was done checking out his client's story.

Wallace's next move was to send the "smiling padre" out "to be boxed," meaning a polygraph test. The man who administered the test was William L. Fleisher, a former FBI agent who did polygraphs for District Attorney Seth Williams and the U.S. Attorney's office. How'd Avery do? "He passed it with flying colors," Wallace said.

That brought Wallace to a firm conclusion about Billy Doe's allegations -- "It all added up to a big lie," Wallace said.


Mike Wallace

Mike Wallace is a tall, trim stand-up guy with a gruff, no-nonsense manner and a gravelly voice. He was Frank Rizzo's deputy mayor, and then a Common Pleas Court judge. For the past 30 years, Wallace has been the city's most active criminal defense lawyer, specializing in homicides.

Wallace has defended murderous drug dealers. He's defended one of the baseball bat-wielding goons who killed 16-year-old Eddie Polec in 1994 on the steps of a Catholic church. He defended Tanya Dacri, the mom who drowned and dismembered her 7-month old son.

Wallace is a former street guy who's seen it all. Above, all he has a finely-tuned bullshit detector.

Which brings us to Billy Doe.

"I think he's an unfortunate young man," Wallace said. "Like every other drug addict I ever knew, he'd do anything for a buck."

Billy Doe is the pseudonym for the 24-year-old Northeast Philadelphia man who claimed back when he was a 10-year-old altar boy, Father Avery raped him. The stories Billy Doe told on the witness stand are responsible for putting a monsignor, two priests and a former Catholic school teacher in jail after two historic Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trials.

But did Billy Doe make it all up?

Mike Wallace thinks so.

"I don't believe a word he said," Wallace said. "He obviously wasn't telling a consistent, logical story. It just wasn't there."


On January 30, 2009, Billy Doe told Louise Hagner, an archdiocese social worker, that Father Avery anally raped him on two occasions. Hagner wrote down Billy's account and read it to a grand jury on April 8, 2010.

The first rape took place inside St. Jerome's Church:

Father Avery punched him [Billy] in the back of the head and he fell down. When he woke, he was completely naked and his hands were tied with altar sashes. He started kicking at Father Avery and Father Avery bent his foot back until he felt like it was going to break. Father told him he would break every bone in his body. Father Avery pulled his pants down and anally raped him. When he was done, he smacked him [Billy] in the face with his penis and he made him suck all the blood off his penis. He said he was in the room for one hour."

Father Avery told him [Billy] if he ever told anyone, he would hang him from his balls and kill him slowly. He also told him that no one will ever believe a stupid kid over a highly decorated priest ...

Billy's second sex "session" with Father Avery took place in the rectory:

[Billy Doe] said that Father Avery pushed him back on the bed and performed oral sex on on him. Father Avery then made [Billy Doe] perform anal sex on him; however, [Billy] was not able to achieve an erection which made Father Avery angry. Father Avery slapped [Billy Doe] and turned him over and anally raped him so hard that he bled for a week. When they were done, Father Avery asked him, did you like it? I know you liked it you f'n fag. You will never forget me.

"He [Avery] would never do anything that stupid," Wallace said. "He wasn't violent, which is why I worry about him in prison."

Ed Avery


Avery was a known predator with a drinking problem. He was adept at grooming boys, but he was a fondler, not a rapist. During the trial last year of Msgr. William J. Lynn, a soft-spoken 49-year-old doctor testified about how Avery began grooming him when he was a sixth-grader.

"I got a lot of affirmation from him," the doctor said. Avery took the boy on trips to the Poconos, Lake Nocamixon, and his beach house down the shore.

One night in 1978, the victim, then 15, accompanied Father Ed to Smokey Joe's, a bar on the University of Pennsylvania campus in West Philadelphia where Father Avery worked as a disc jockey. The witness wound up getting smashed, throwing up, and passing out. He slept that night in the priest's bed.

"I woke up," the victim testified. "It was still dark. His hand was next to my leg." The victim said he felt the priest's hand move to his thigh, and then, "he placed his hand on my penis," and finally, he tried to slip his hand into the boy's underwear.

"I really didn't know what to think," the victim testified. "I pretended I was asleep." He rolled over, to get away from Father Ed. The next morning, he woke up confused.

"I really admired this guy, I really worshiped him," the victim told the jury. So they stayed friends. At 19, the victim went on a ski trip with Father Ed to Vermont. They wound up in the same bed again. And once again, Father Avery molested him. "He put his hand directly on my penis and started to massage it ... I became erect and ejaculated."

After the incident, the victim said he was upset, but conflicted. "Part of me still had affection for this person," he said. "He was a big figure in my life."

The doctor's story was all about grooming, seduction and betrayal by a patient predator, who waited years for the opportunity to molest his victim. It's in vivid contrast to Billy's story, where there's no grooming, only slam-bam action worthy of an x-rated comic book.


On Jan. 28, 2010, Detective Andrew Snyder drove up to Graterford Prison to spring Billy Doe out of jail. Snyder drove Billy back to the district attorney's office, where Billy's parents were waiting, along with Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen.

According to what the prosecution turned over in discovery, only Snyder took notes.

In contrast to what he told Louise Hagner, Billy told Detective Snyder a completely different story about his interaction with Father Avery. This time Billy described four encounters with Avery, all inside the church. There was no violence, no tying up of the victim, and no anal sex. This time, the story revolved around the boy performing stripteases for the priest, masturbation, oral sex, fingers inserted into anuses, and some brand new dialogue.

Here's the story Billy Doe told Detective Snyder, as recorded in the detective's notes:

In the Spring of 1999, Father Avery approached Danny after school during Bell Choir practice and said, "I heard about your sessions with Father Engelhardt." "I don't know what you're talking about," Billy said. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

Three days later, Billy was serving a late Mass with Father Avery. Billy said the priest had him stick around after Mass to do some work. After the church is empty, Avery told Billy, "I heard you were real good at your sessions" and, "We'll be having our sessions real soon."

A third encounter with Father Engelhardt occurred after another Mass. Father Avery brought Billy into a storage room outside the church sacristy at St. Jerome's and said, "I know about your sessions with Father Engelhardt. This is your second phase."

Avery showed Billy some pornographic magazines, and then had the boy strip down to his undewear. "Father Avery seems to enjoy this," Detective Snyder wrote. Avery stripped down to his underwear, and then told Billy to take off his underwear:

Father Avery has [Billy] sit on is lap and he begins massaging and rubbing [Billy's] back. Father Avery has [Billy] turn around to face him and begins to masturbate [Billy] and is kissing his neck. Father Avery sucks [Billy's] penis and has [Billy] masturbate him. Father Avery then licks [Billy's] anus and inserts his finger into [Billy's] anus. [Billy] cries out in pain and Father Avery stops. Father Avery then has [Billy] suck his penis. Father Avery pushes [Billy's] head on his penis. [Billy] continues this until Father Avery ejaculates. When this is through Father Avery sits [Billy] on his lap and tells him how good he was and that he would be rewarded. The whole time this was occurring Father Avery had a creepy smile on his face.

The fourth encounter occurs around July. [Billy] is serving a funeral Mass with Father Avery. Father Avery sends the other altar servers home and told [Billy] that is is is time for their next session. Avery leads [Billy] back to the storage room and turns on music. Father Avery has [Billy] strip. Father Avery strips and starts to rub his body against [Billy's] body. [Billy] looks away, but Father Avery tells [Billy] "Look at me son, isn't what God created beautiful?"

Father Avery "forcibly pushes [Billy] on his knees and has [Billy] suck his penis. "[Billy] is visibly upset telling this story," the detective writes in his notes. Father Avery grabs [Billy's] hand and makes [Billy] forcibly insert his finger into Father Avery's anus. Avery ejaculates and tells [Billy] that is is his turn. Avery sucks [Billy's] penis and tells [Billy] to look at him while he is sucking [Billy's] penis. Father Avery says, "This is what God wants, this is what we were created for."

[Billly] avoided Father Avery, and when Father Avery finally approached [Billy], he said that the sessions were fulfilling and that is was time for [Billy] to experience sex on his own.


On March 19, 2010, Billy Doe told a grand jury he was high on heroin when he talked to Louise Hagner, so he can't remember anything he said.

But he did remember several details from that day. Billy testified to the grand jury that on the day he talked to Hagner, he went to the methadone clinic and then came home and talked to his father, a Philadelphia police officer.

In the grand jury, under questioning from prosecutors, Billy recalled that Hagner called him on his cell phone, and that his father warned him not to talk to anybody from the archdiocese:

Q. After they called you on your cell phone and told you they wanted to meet, what happened after that?

A. I agreed. I told my father. He said he didn't want them coming over the house ...

Q. So what happened after that?

A. They ended up coming to the house and knocked on the door. He [his father] wouldn't let me answer. So I snuck out and went and talked to them in the car.

Q. Do you recall why you snuck out and went against your dad to go talk to them?

A. ... I was wasted. I was high out of my mind ...

Q. What drug were you on?

A. Heroin.

Q. So you were on heroin. Do you recall what happened after you went outside?

A. I went and I hopped in the car with this lady and she drove down the street a little bit and parked the car.

Q. Did she identify herself to you? Did she say where she was coming from?

A. I remember her saying she was from the Archdiocese, victim services.

Q. Was there anybody else in the car with her?

A. No.

Q. OK. Do you recall what happened during your talk with her?

A. I know she was asking me questions, but I really don't remember at all.

Q. Do you recall whether she had a tape recorder or [was] taking notes?

A. I think she was taking notes.

Q. OK, without describing to us the circumstances of the interview, do you recall what you said to her?

A. No.

... Q. If the notes indicated that Father Avery anally raped you, is that true? Is that what happened?

A. No.


Billy told the grand jury he was high on heroin when he talked to Louise Hagner and that's why he can't remember anything he said. But Louise Hagner wasn't the only person that Billy told a fantastic story to.

On Feb. 3, 2012, Detectives David Fisher and Andrew Snyder met with Mark Besben, a drug counselor who had talked to Billy back in 2009, shortly before Billy talked to Louise Hagner.

And from what Besben told the detectives, Billy Doe told him a similar story with a new spin about other victims:

Q. Do you recall any specifics of [Billy's] details describing his abuse?

A. He said it was when he was in Catholic elementary school when he was really young. He said his hands was tied up and how helpless he felt ...

Q. Did Danny say or tell you how long his abuse sexual abuse took place?

A. For two years ... Danny mentioned that he was not the only one.

The drug counselor had previously told police he had doubts about Billy. On March 22, 2010, Detective Snyder wrote:

I talked to Besden on the phone. Although he won't say that he does not believe [Billy's] story, he finds it difficult to believe based on the amount of information that [Billy] told him. Besden stated that it is his experience that most victims of abuse do not open up that quickly.


On April 25, 2012, Billy Doe testified at the trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn. The prosecutor in the case, Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti, asked Billy about his conversations with Mark Besben, a counselor at a drug rehab called SOAR.

Q. Did you also tell Mark at SOAR some of the things that occurred with Fathers Avery and Engelhardt?

A. I don't remember like everything I told him 'cause I was pretty high.

Q. You were high when you talked to Mark?

A. Yeah.

Q. Is that -- you were getting methadone treatment at that time?

A. Yeah.

Cipolletti asked Billy Doe about his interview with Louise Hagner. Once again, Billy didn't remember much.

Q. Now at the time that you're going to SOAR, you said you were in treatment for heroin with the methadone?

A. Yes.

Q. Were you also continuing to use drugs while you were in this outpatient treatment?

A. Yes.

Q. What drugs were you using?

A. Umm, on top of my methadone, I was taking Xanax and smoking weed.

Q. What type of effect does the methadone, Xanax and marijuana have on someone? How would you describe for the jury who may have never seen anyone like that?

A. Basically in a comatose state. You're not lucid. You can't think. You're completely out there ...


At the trial of Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero, on Jan. 13, 2013, defense attorney Michael J. McGovern asked Louise Hagner if during her interview with Billy, did he appear "drunk or high?"

"No," Hagner told the jury. "We would never interview anyone who was impaired."

When he walked down the street to the car with the social workers in it, was he staggering or swaying, McGovern asked.

No, he appeared to be walking normally, Hagner testified.

Asked about Billy's demeanor in the car when he told his story, Hagner said, "he was nervous, he was upset." She said a few times during the interview, Billy "put his head down and made crying noises." But when he lifted his head, the social worker said she noted "his eyes weren't red and there weren't any tears."

Hagner told the jury she thought that was strange.


On March 19, 2010, Billy testified before the grand jury. He said that Father Avery pulled him aside when he was a fifth grader at St. Jerome's:

Q. Can you tell us what happened during this incident.

A. It was with Father Avery, At the end of bell choir, as I was putting the bells away, he [Avery] pulled me aside and told me that he heard about my sessions with Father [Charles] Engelhardt, and ours will begin soon.

Q. Do you remember what was going through your head when he told you about this?

A. I played it off like I didn't know what he was talking about, but in my mind I was kind of -- my stomach turned.

Q. How old were you?

A. Still 10 ...

Q. Now, was anybody in the church when the bell choir met?

A. There were students and the pianist.

Q. How many students approximately were in bell choir?

A. Maybe 20.

Q. Where they from all grades or where they just fifth grade bell choir? What they were composed of?

A. Mostly all grades.

Q. Okay. Were they both boys and girls?

A. Yes ...

Q. Okay. Would anybody stay after bell choir, the students or any of the teachers that were playing the piano?

A. It was mostly the maintenance. Like, myself and one or two other students that put the bells in the cases and put everything away

At the trial of Father Engelhardt and Bernard Shero, three teachers from St. Jerome's, including the church's longtime music director, testified that only eighth grade boys were allowed to be members of the bell choir maintenance crew because of the heavy equipment they had to move. Not only were fifth grade boys barred from serving on the maintenance crew, the teachers told the jury, but so were sixth and seventh grade boys.

The reason was simple: members of the bell choir maintenance crew had to set up 30-pound tables, and carry bell cases that weighed more than 30 pounds. Only the eighth grade boys were big and strong enough to do the job, the teachers said.

After the eighth grade boys in the maintenance crew set up the bell choir, they left, and did not hang around, the teachers testified. The choir would perform usually for an hour, and after they were done, the choir members were responsible for putting away the bells. Not the maintenance crew.

Why would three teachers at St. Jerome's lie about the bell choir maintenance crew?

Billy may have been a member of the bell choir maintenance crew in eighth grade, his teachers testified, but he couldn't have worked on the crew as a fifth grader. Or as a sixth grader or a seventh grader. Only eighth grade boys could serve on the bell choir maintenance crew.

As the church music director of 23 years, Margaret "Peggy" Long, told Detective Joseph Walsh on Dec. 20, 2011, "I read the grand jury report and the information concerning the bell choir could not have happened."

Or as Mike Wallace will tell you, "If you're gonna be a liar, you'd better have a good memory."


Judge M. Teresa Sarmina

If Mike Wallace was convinced that Billy Doe was a liar, why did he allow his client Ed Avery to plead guilty on March 22, 2012 to two crimes he didn't commit, namely involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with Billy Doe, and conspiracy [with Msgr. William J. Lynn and others at the archdiocese] to endanger the welfare of a child, namely Billy?

Well for starters, if the two sentences on the two felony charges Avery faced were served consecutively, Avery was looking at a maximum possible sentence of 13 1/2 to 27 years in prison.

And the prosecution, hot to win that "historic" conviction against Msgr. Lynn, had offered Avery a sweetheart deal: 2 1/2 to 5 years.

"It was probably the only deal I would have accepted," Wallace said. "My client's 69."

At the first archdiocese sex abuse trial, Avery was being tried along with co-defendants Msgr. Lynn and Father James J. Brennan. He was facing a pro-prosecution judge, M. Teresa Sarmina, who had allowed the district attorney to enter into evidence 21 past cases of horrific sexual abuse dating all the way back to 1948, two years before Lynn was born, just to show a pattern of conduct in the archdiocese.

So not only was Lynn on trial with Avery and Brennan, but so was the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for all the crimes it had committed against innocent children for the past 64 years.

It didn't look good for the smiling padre.

In addition, that 49-year-old doctor that Avery had abused as a teenager was going to testify against him. Several other victims were also available to testify for the prosecution that Avery had abused them as boys. [Only Billy Doe's accusations fell within the statute of limitations].

If Avery was convicted, when he came before Judge Sarmina for sentencing, "She would have killed him," Wallace said.

So they took the plea.

At the hearing over Avery's guilty plea, neither the judge or the prosecutors ever asked Avery if he had committed the crimes he was pleading guilty to. Instead, they just made sure Avery knew what he was doing.

"Do you think, sir, that you have to plead guilty in this case, or is that something you've discussed and decided to do?" Judge Sarmina asked the defendant.

"It's something I have discussed and decided to do," Avery said.

"Have any promises or representations been made to you by anyone to get you to plead guilty other than what you've heard me state here in open court in front of everyone?" Judge Sarmina asked.

"No, they have not," Avery said.

"Did anybody pressure you or threaten you in any way in order to get you to plead guilty?" the judge asked.

"No, they did not," Avery said.

"Are you pleading guilty of your own free will?"

"I am, Your Honor," the defendant said.

"Whose decision was it for you to plead guilty, Mr. Avery?" the judge asked.

"My own," Avery said.

The judge asked the prosecutor to read "the elements of the offenses to which you are entering your pleas of guilty." The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, read the accusations involving the alleged oral intercourse that Avery engaged in with the 10-year-old altar boy.

Blessington also charged that between 1992 and 2003, Avery had conspired with Lynn and other archdiocese employees and officials to "engage in a course of conduct" that endangered the welfare of children.

Blessington stated that Avery "was aided in his efforts to remain in ministry with unsupervised access to parish children and altar servers by Lynn and others in the archdiocese. Defendant Lynn and other archdiocese officials acted in concert with Avery with a common purpose to conceal Avery's known acts of sexual abuse of a minor," Blessington told the judge.

The goal of the alleged conspiracy, Blessington said, was to ensure that "Avery could remain in ministry without the knowledge of parishioners" so that more "children would be exposed to a man that Defendant Lynn and others in the Archdiocese knew presented a danger to children."

In other words, Lynn got up every day and said, what can I do to keep our bad boys in collars out there in active ministry so they can molest more kids? It's a story line prosecutors fell in love with, without presenting a shred of evidence to support it.

The real conspiracy in the archdiocese, as everybody knows by now, was to keep pervert priests out of the press and the victims of sexual abuse out of the civil courts, so they wouldn't be cashing any big checks.

"Are those the facts to which today you are entering your plea of guilty to the two charges we have already discussed?" Judge Sarmina asked Avery.

"They are, Your Honor," Avery said.

The judge read the two charges, and Avery pleaded guilty twice.

"The court finds that the entry of your pleas has been made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily, and therefore, I will accept them," the judge said before imposing the agreed upon sentence of 2 1/2 to 5 years in prison.

Mike Wallace had a smile on his face when asked about the guilty plea, and why nobody ever asked Avery if he did it.

The only thing the still-smiling defense lawyer would say for the record was, "It was completely in line with the rules of criminal procedure."

Despite Avery's guilty plea to the conspiracy charge, the jury in the Lynn case acquitted the monsignor of conspiring with Avery and/or anyone else to endanger the welfare of a child. The jury did not buy the prosecution's theory that Lynn and other archdiocese officials had conspired to keep Avery in ministry, so he could molest more children.

Jury foreman Isa Logan went on Fox 29's Good Day shortly after the verdict in the Lynn case to say that he didn't believe the prosecution's grand conspiracy theory, and neither did anyone else on the jury.

"It wasn't about him [Lynn] passing them [abuser priests] on from parish to parish," Logan explained. "None of us understood or believed that he [Lynn] had the understanding that here's a predator priest, I'll help him get to another parish so he can continue to enjoy what he likes to do," Logan stated. "None of us believed that."

It's a terrible shame when the work product of the local district attorney's office finally gets exposed as a work of fiction.

During the trial of Father Engelhardt and Bernard Shero, Avery was hauled into court wearing a prison uniform. When he was finally asked whether he raped Billy Doe, Avery told the prosecutor he didn't do it.

"I didn't want to die in prison," said the former priest, now 70. "That's why I took the plea."

Did the prosecutors know that Avery would go south if they asked the wrong question, Wallace was asked.

He declined to discuss his conversations with the prosecutors, but once again the veteran defense lawyer was smiling.

"There were no surprises," he said.

So his client got a sweetheart deal, but Wallace was left with a bitter aftertaste.

"There's a certain sense of injustice," he said. "The kid got away with a hustle. A junkie hustle."








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