Friday, June 29, 2012

Priest Abuse Blog in the Media

There's an exhaustive and authoritative new website that catalogues everything that moved during the priest abuse trial:

Here's what the introduction to the site says:
"The trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn and Rev. James J. Brennan in Philadelphia was complex and lengthy, and its conclusion was a watershed event: the first conviction of a church official for child endangerment. During the trial, witnesses and exhibits provided the jury with information on 21 other accused priests whom Lynn had managed." 
"We have provided two resources for understanding the trial and the evidence that has been presented during it. On this page, we offer a day-by-day list of the witnesses, evidence, and courtroom discussions, with links to articles by journalists who were present at the trial and filed detailed accounts. The mainstays are John P. Martin and Joseph A. Slobodzian of the Philadelphia InquirerMaryclaire Dale and Joann Loviglio of the Associated Press, and Ralph Cipriano of the Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog sponsored by The Beasley Firm. Many other reporters covered the trial, and we have included selections of their work. We have emphasized the longer accounts. The men and women of the press deserve everyone's sincere thanks for their dedicated and able reporting during this epic trial."
The blog, which began in March, on the opening day of the trial, has since been featured on NPR, USA Today, Jim Romenesko's journalism blog and the BBC. Our total page views are up over 200,000, which is much more than we were expecting. If you were reading the blog, here's what you found out that the rest of the media wasn't reporting:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ongoing Archdiocese Fire Sale Exposes 19-Year-Old Cover-Up of Cardinal Bevilacqua's Lavish Spending

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is holding a fire sale after running up $11.6 million in legal bills in the fiscal year prior to the priest abuse trial. Facing a $17 million operating deficit, the archdiocese is now selling off the cardinal's mansion on City Line Avenue, and closing down the 117-year-old archdiocese newspaper, The Catholic Standard & Times.

The latest victim of the church's austerity campaign is Villa St. Joseph-by-the-Sea. The grand summer vacation home where Cardinals Krol and Bevilacqua once entertained wealthy donors will soon be up for sale. It's a three-story brick and stucco oceanfront mansion that covers an entire city block along the boardwalk in Ventnor, N.J., and is assessed at $6.2 million.

The impending sale of the cardinal's seaside villa is not only a sign of the archdiocese's changing fortunes, but it also exposes a bunch of lies told by the cardinal's PR guys 19 years ago to get His Eminence out of a public relations jam over the villa. It's an amusing saga.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Judge Worried About Monsignor Hiding Out At Vatican

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina wants Msgr. William J. Lynn to sign an extradition waiver before she'll consider letting him out of jail on house arrest.

The judge told lawyers in the case that she's worried about the monsignor fleeing the Commonwealth to hide out at the Vatican. If the monsignor wants to get out of jail, he'll have to sign the extradition waiver first. Then if he subsequently becomes a fugitive and is captured on Vatican soil, he cannot legally fight extradition back to the U.S.

Sounds like a plot for a TV potboiler, right? But the judge was serious, and so Lynn agreed to the request. The judge was crabbier than usual as she repeatedly lit into defense lawyer Jeff Lindy for mistakenly telling her last week that the monsignor does not have a passport. He does, although on Tuesday, the monsignor handed his passport over to the judge before he went back to jail.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jury Didn't Buy Prosecution's Grand Conspiracy Theory

Lost in all the hoopla over the "historic" conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn was the jury's repudiation of the prosecution's central allegation in the priest abuse case: that Lynn had somehow conspired with predator priests to keep them in ministry, so they could abuse new victims.

The prosecution's conspiracy theory was basically that the monsignor got up every morning and said, hey, what can I do today to keep our bad boys in collars, so they can continue to rape, pillage and molest more innocent children.

On Monday, the jury foreman in the case went on Fox 29 and said that nobody on the jury bought the prosecutors' conspiracy theory that sounded far-fetched when the trial began back in March, and seems even more absurd now that the three-month trial is over, and no evidence was ever presented to back it up.

It would be comical, except that the Commonwealth just spent a ton of money and eight weeks of trial time trying to convince the jury that Bill Lynn the quintessential company man was the alleged mastermind down at the archdiocese of a secret plot to sexually abuse children.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Father Brennan Walks Out "In The Sunshine;" Msgr. Lynn Taken Into Custody

Moments after he had been convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, Msgr. William J. Lynn bowed his head at the defense table. The issue now was whether his bail would be revoked, and the speaker was Lynn's longtime antagonist, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington.

The monsignor had just been convicted of a third-degree felony that "calls for a lengthy jail sentence," Blessington roared. "Let's start it today. That's justice."

The monsignor had his back to courtroom spectators, but everybody could see the back of his neck and his ears turning bright red.

Moments later, family members wept silently as the monsignor was led away by sheriff's deputies. "Oh God," one young woman sobbed. His shame was now complete. Lynn would spend the night as the newest inmate at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, known as CFCF, at 7901 State Road in Northeast Philadelphia.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Jury Returns Mixed Verdict

On the thirteenth day of deliberations, the jury finally reached a verdict in the Philadelphia priest abuse trial. Msgr. Lynn was found guilty on a single count of child endangerment, but he was acquitted on a conspiracy charge and a second child endangerment charge. The jury was deadlocked on the charges against Fr. James Brennan. 

More to come...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

If the Jury Remains Deadlocked, Should the D.A. Retry the Case?

With the jury off today, it's a good time to speculate about if the jury remains deadlocked, should District Attorney Seth Williams retry the case?

Will Spade, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney who worked on the 2005 grand jury investigation of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, says it's a no-brainer.

"I really do think they have to because it's such an important case and because they've staked so much on it," said Spade, now a defense lawyer. "To Seth's credit he's the first prosecutor in America to actually hold the Catholic hierarchy responsible for this stuff. I think there's too much riding on it, so they have to do it."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jurors Say They're Deadlocked; Judge Says Keep Deliberating

Shortly before noon, the jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case sent a note to Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, saying on their 12th day of deliberations, they were deadlocked on four of five counts.

"Please advise us of our next step," the note concluded.

The judge told the jury to continue deliberating. She offered her assistance to break the deadlock. The judge offered to read back her entire hour-long set of instructions to the jury, known as a charge, which covered the crimes the two defendants are accused of, as well as how to evaluate direct and circumstantial evidence, and the concept of reasonable doubt, among other legal topics.

The judge offered to do read backs on days of testimony regarding Mark Bukowski, the accuser of Father James J. Brennan, along with testimony from Bukowski's mother, and testimony from a former 10-year-old altar boy who was sexually abused by Father Edward V. Avery.

The offer of read backs on the testimony of the three witnesses was a complete reversal of Judge Sarmina's position of last week, when she told the jury she did not want to have days of testimony read back to the jury.  "I'm certainly not gonna have the whole trial re-read for them," the judge said as of last Tuesday. But on the day the jury announced it was deadlocked, the judge said that reading back three days of testimony was better than having to retry the entire case.

Hung Jury - Time For The Dynamite Charge?

This guest post is by Beasley Firm attorney Max Kennerly, who regularly blogs at Litigation & Trial.

Eleven days into deliberations, the jury has told Judge Sarmina that they're hung on all but one of the counts. Now what?

That doesn't mean it's over, because the Court can still give what's informally known as a "dynamite" charge and try to move the jury to a verdict one way or the other. Under the century-old United States Supreme Court case, Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492 (1896), the Court may admonish the jury to keep trying, and can ask jurors to reconsider their positions. In Pennsylvania, the charge is known as a Spencer charge after the main case applying it here, Commonwealth v. Spencer, 442 Pa. 328, 275 A.2d 299 (1971), which incorporated American Bar Association standard 15-5.4. That standard says:

(a) Before the jury retires for deliberation, the court may give an instruction which informs the jury:
(1) that in order to return a verdict, each juror must agree thereto;
(2) that jurors have a duty to consult with one another and to deliberate with a view to reaching an agreement, if it can be done without violence to individual judgment;
(3) that each juror must decide the case for himself or herself but only after an impartial consideration of the evidence with the other jurors;
(4) that in the course of deliberations, a juror should not hesitate to reexamine his or her own views and change an opinion if the juror is convinced it is erroneous; and
(5) that no juror should surrender his or her honest belief as to the weight or effect of the evidence solely because of the opinion of the other jurors, or for the mere purpose of returning a verdict.
(b) If it appears to the court that the jury has been unable to agree, the court may require the jury to continue their deliberations and may give or repeat an instruction as provided in section (a). The court should not require or threaten to require the jury to deliberate for an unreasonable length of time or for unreasonable intervals.
(c) The jury may be discharged without having agreed upon a verdict if it appears that there is no reasonable probability of agreement.
The core concern in giving a Spencer instruction is to ensure the jury doesn't feel coerced by the court to reaching a verdict one way or another. The charge cannot, for example, "instruct the minority jurors to yield to the majority," nor instruct that "the majority [] need not re-examine their position." Commonwealth v. Schaffer, 2005 PA Super 14 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005). The point of the charge is to make sure everyone has thoroughly considered the issues and so has reached a fully informed and honest belief as to the evidence.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day 11 Without A Verdict As Rumors Abound About A Deadlocked Jury

Moments before she sent the jury home for the day, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina held a closed-door conference with lawyers in the case. What they talked about is not known, because there's a continuing gag order that's been in effect since early last year that prevents lawyers in the case from talking to the  media.

When the jury filed back into Courtroom 304 shortly after 4 p.m., they looked tired and frustrated. One jury member was seen rolling her eyes when the judge talked about returning Wednesday to resume deliberations for a 12th day, as in what's the use.

In the absence of any hard facts, a room full of reporters was left to subsist on persistent rumors of a deadlocked jury. Again, nobody in any official capacity, including the judge, the prosecutors, and the defense lawyers, had anything to say, but after 11 fruitless days of deliberation, it's a logical thought.

For the second consecutive day, the formerly inquisitive jury did not ask a single question, prompting more speculation that the jury has perhaps reached the point where they have exhausted seeking help from the judge through questions about the law and requests for more documents and trial transcripts.

Meanwhile, rumors percolated around the courtroom about the absence from the defense table of Allison S. Khaskelis, the youngest member of the team of lawyers representing Msgr. Lynn. Khaskelis was recently seen sporting a new diamond engagement ring, amid rumors that she was about to leave the country to elope. She was last seen at the courthouse bidding a tearful goodbye to Msgr. Lynn.

The jury is scheduled to return at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Stay tuned.. Khaskelis

Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 10 Without A Verdict

The jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial deliberated for a tenth day Monday without reaching a verdict.

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina sent the jury home shortly after 4 p.m. They asked no questions. The jurors did not appear angry, as some reporters have previously noted, but they weren't smiling either as they were dismissed for the day.

Meanwhile, the bored press corps staking out Courtroom 304 was entertained by Pat Ciarrocchi of CBS 3 Eyewitness News. Ciarrocchi, employing her dramatic broadcast voice, read horoscopes from the Philadelphia Daily News for the court crier and several reporters on hand. Sadly, there were no predictions about any pending dramatic announcements.

Victims' advocates, however, who attend the trial daily, saw a silver lining. At least the jury wasn't telling the judge that they were deadlocked.

Outside the Criminal Justice Center, TV camera crews and news photographers chased Msgr. William J. Lynn, his lawyers, and Lynn's relatives down Filbert Street.

Just another day at the sex abuse trial. Jury deliberations are scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What's Hanging The Jury?

Last week, the jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case asked lots of questions and requested to have days of trial testimony read back to them. The case appeared to be moving slowly in reverse.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in the Penn State case made their opening statement on Monday and then began presenting testimony from ten alleged victims representing 52 charges over 15 years. By Thursday, after just four days, the prosecution rested. On Monday, the defense in the Penn State is scheduled to begin its case. The verdict could be in by Friday.

But for long-suffering jurors in the archdiocese case, Monday will mark the tenth day of deliberations, and the 13th week of trial. If the archdiocese case was a TV show, it would be canceled by now. While the archdiocese case languishes, the Penn State trial has stolen all the headlines and media attention.

What's hanging the jury? A couple of veteran lawyers had differing ideas.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Judge Reverses Herself On Criminal Intent

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina began the day by reversing herself.

On Thursday, the judge instructed the jury that Monsignor William J. Lynn did not have to act with criminal intent in order to be found guilty of conspiring to endanger the welfare of children.

On Friday, the judge said that Msgr. Lynn did have to act with criminal intent in order to be found guilty of conspiring to endanger the welfare of children.

Confused? Obviously, so are the jurors, who finished their ninth day of deliberations without reaching a verdict.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Judge's Ruling Sets Off Fireworks

It was another slow and foggy afternoon in Courtroom 304, as Judge M. Teresa Sarmina handled one question after another from an inquisitive panel of jurors.

Then, the jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case, now in their eighth day of deliberations, asked the judge this question: If the charge of EWOC -- endangering the welfare of children -- is the result of a criminal conspiracy, does it have to be the intent of a criminal conspiracy?

The judge said no, setting off a free-for-all among lawyers in the case, and a temper tantrum from a prosecutor while the judge just sat there and watched. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The "Read-Back Jury" Frustrates Judge, Lawyers in Archdiocese Sex Abuse Case

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 presented to the jury 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.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Jury Stuck On Father Brennan

Jurors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case Monday sent a few more questions to the judge that took a few more passes over well-plowed ground.

Jurors then followed up those questions by re-hearing a two-hour transcript of the 2008 church canonical trial of Father James J. Brennan read into the record back on April 30th by Msgr. Kevin Quirk. The transcript told the priest's version of the night he was accused of allegedly attempting to rape 14-year-old Mark Bukowski.

By day's end, the jurors seemed stuck on the Father Brennan case. Meanwhile, the judge appeared crabby, the prosecutors seemed edgy and the defense lawyers couldn't be blamed if they were daring to dream about a hung jury.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jury Goes On Vacation; Bill Brennan, Vernon Odom Play Godfather Trivia

It's getting strange down at the courthouse, folks.

After a 10-week trial, the jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case has decided they need some time off for family events, like graduations. So on Thursday, after Judge M. Teresa Sarmina approved their request, jurors walked out of Courtroom 304, to get an early start on a long weekend.

The jury of seven men and five women that began deliberating last Friday afternoon are off this Friday. On Monday, they'll be coming in around 1 p.m. and hopefully put in a full afternoon, before they are scheduled to leave around 4:30 p.m. On Tuesday, they're expected to deliberate again, but Wednesday, they're off, and Friday they're off again.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Jury Asks for Marker Board and Easel

Jurors in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case Wednesday asked the judge for a marker board and an easel. Presumably, they didn't want to play Pictionary.

Jurors spent their third full day of deliberations asking more questions of Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. The jurors asked the judge to  define a pedophile and an ephebophile. Pedophiles are attracted to children, ephebophiles, adolescents.

The judge declined the request, however, saying that no evidence had been presented in the case that defined the two terms. The jury heard both words bandied about the courtroom frequently throughout the trial, as witnesses talked about diagnoses of archdiocese priests undergoing psychiatric evaluations. The judge told jurors they would have to rely on their recollections of what the terms meant.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Church's Legal Tab: $11.6 Million in 2011-2012

Every day for the past ten weeks, Msgr. William J. Lynn has been accompanied to trial by four full-time defense lawyers. A conservative estimate is that the archdiocese is spending $75,000 a week on those four defense lawyers, or $750,000 for the past ten weeks of trial.

But the costs of the archdiocese's legal bill is much higher than that. In the archdiocese's new financial report issued this month, it was disclosed that the church has spent $11.6 million in response to the 2011 grand jury investigation of the archdiocese.

In a letter to parishioners that accompanied the new financial report, Archbishop Charles Chaput said the church spent $1.6 million in the 2011 fiscal year, and another $10 million over nine months of the 2012 fiscal year that ended March 31.

Two Disputes Over the Words "And/Or" Leave Jurors Confused And/Or Frustrated


Lawyers in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case spent Monday and Tuesday haggling with Judge M. Teresa Sarmina over the meaning of two charges to the jury. Both disputes came in answer to questions raised by jurors over the words "and/or."

When the haggling was over, the first dispute was resolved with an "and or," to the detriment of Msgr. William J. Lynn, because it gave the jury more latitude to find him guilty of a conspiracy charge. The resolution of the second dispute with simply an "and" appeared to be a gift to the other defendant in the case, Father James J. Brennan, because it made it more difficult to convict him on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child.

On Tuesday, jurors appeared confused over the disparity in the judge's answers. In effect, they sent a note to the judge, asking why what was good for the goose wasn't good for the gander.

The judge told jurors they had asked an "astute question," but then she said she basically couldn't give them a straight answer. "It's for legal reasons," she said. Five minutes later, the jury sent another note to the judge. It was 3:20, but the jurors wanted to go home for the day, an hour earlier than usual.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Jury In Sex Abuse Case Has Plenty of Questions

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."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Closing Arguments in the Archdiocese Sex Abuse Case Quote Shakespeare, Martin Luther King, and A Love Letter From A Pedophile Priest

A defense lawyer quoted Shakespeare and Twelve Angry Men as he talked to the jury about reasonable doubt. A prosecutor read a pornographic love note that a priest had written to a seventh-grader, and then he showed jurors a smiling, baby-faced photo of a 10-year-old altar boy before he was sexually abused.

It was time for closing arguments Thursday in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case, with lawyers from both sides looking to score last-minute points as they closed out 10 weeks of testimony. Judge M. Teresa Sarmina is expected to charge the jury Friday morning, and then it will be time for deliberations.

Thomas Bergstrom, a defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, was the leadoff speaker. He's a former judge advocate officer for the U.S. Marines who looks like a graying version of Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, as played by Gregory Peck.

The concept of reasonable doubt "is an enormous safeguard in our system of justice," Bergstrom told the jury. He defined reasonable doubt as "that kind of doubt that causes you to hesitate. If you hesitate, then you have a reasonable doubt." Bergstrom was hoping for lots of hesitation from the non-Catholic, largely minority jury of seven men and five women who will decide the fate of Msgr. Lynn, and his co-defendant, Father James J. Brennan.