Pa. Justices Won't Reinstate Lynn Conviction

By Max Mitchell
July 26, 2016

The state Supreme Court has denied the Philadelphia District Attorney Office’s attempt to reinstate the ­conviction of Monsignor William J. Lynn, the first Catholic Church administrative ­official convicted over sexual abuse committed by other priests.

The justices issued a one-page order Tuesday denying the prosecutor’s appeal in Commonwealth v. Lynn. The District Attorney’s Office had asked the court to reverse a decision from the Superior Court that had vacated Lynn’s child endangerment conviction, and ordered a new trial in the case.

A spokesman for District Attorney R. Seth Williams said the office is currently reviewing the decision.

Lynn’s attorney, Thomas A. Bergstrom of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, said he was pleased with the ­decision and will work to get Lynn ­released soon.

“We are hopeful we will be able to get a motion filed and an order to get him released from custody as soon as we can, because right now he is an unconvicted and ­unsentenced prisoner,” Bergstrom said.

Lynn had served as secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and in that role supervised priests including Edward Avery, who molested a 10-year-old altar boy. Avery pleaded guilty in 2012 of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children, according to First Judicial District docket entries.

The District Attorney’s Office filed its ­appeal in May, arguing the front-line appeals court had usurped the trial court’s power when it determined that too much “other-acts” evidence had been allowed at trial. The appeal, filed by Hugh Burns Jr., chief of the District Attorney’s appeals unit, said the evidence was necessary and properly admitted, and the Superior Court should not have re-weighed it, and vacated the conviction.

If the Supreme Court had agreed to take up the appeal, it would have been the ­second time the case went before the justices since Lynn’s 2012 conviction, in which he was sentenced to serve three to six years’ incarceration.

Lynn was initially convicted under a ­version of the child endangerment law that did not specifically indicate that it extended to someone who employs or supervises ­parents, guardians or supervisors.

In December 2013, the Superior Court ­reversed Lynn’s conviction for the first time, concluding he was not a “supervisor” within the meaning of the child 
­endangerment law.

The Supreme Court, however, reversed that ruling in April 2015, saying the statute was clear, and Lynn had been charged with supervising the children’s welfare.

Lynn had spent 18 months in jail, and was placed on house arrest after the Superior Court first reversed his conviction. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, however, sent him back to prison after revoking his bail in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision reinstating his conviction.

The Superior Court then tossed the conviction again due to the “other-acts” evidence.

According to the Superior Court, much of Lynn’s trial—25 days of the 32-day trial, according to Lynn—was spent on evidence of 21 other priests, dating as far back as the 1940s. Lynn had contended the evidence was excessive and prejudicial.



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