Accuser in Philadelphia Priest Sex Abuse Case Is Grilled By Defense Attorneys
January 16, 2013 2:19 PM
By Tony Hanson
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Defense attorneys in the latest sex abuse case in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia today were attacking the credibility of an alleged victim who has testified he was sexually assaulted by a priest and a lay teacher when he was ten years old, a fifth grader, in 1999 and 2000.
The witness is now 24 years old and came forward a decade after the alleged abuse.
The defense today suggested through questioning that the alleged victim’s story — that he was sexually assaulted by Father Charles Engelhardt in the church sacristy after an early morning mass — is incredible.
At one point, Engelhardt’s attorney, Michael McGovern, noted that the sacristy had several doors for entrance and exit, including one to the outside and another directly to the school. He asked the witness, “Wouldn’t that be a crazy place to rape somebody?”
The witness responded, “Not necessarily.”
McGovern, and the attorney for co-defendant Bernard Shero, both have cited inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s statements, but the witness has stood his ground.
The victim has also testified that he was later sexually assaulted by another priest in the same area of the church. That priest, Edward Avery, has since pleaded guilty.
Witness: After rape by teacher ‘I had to go’ to school
Joseph A. Slobodzian, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013, 3:42 PM
The defense lawyer for former parochial schoolteacher Bernard Shero today began trying to chip away at the credibility of a 24-year-old Northeast man who says he was sexually assaulted by Shero and two priests when he was a 10-year-old altar boy.
The witness – The Inquirer does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault – testified Tuesday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court that the serial sexual assaults by Shero and two priests destroyed his childhood and led to his life as a drug addict.
But defense attorney Burton A. Rose, showing the jury blow-ups of the man’s report cards from 5th through 8th grades at St. Jerome’s, noted that his grades and attendance barely changed during the time of the alleged assaults in 1998 and 1999.
“So you went to school the next day after this man [Shero] anally raped you in the back of his car?” Rose asked.
“It was school, I had to go,” replied the witness, who was identified as “Billy Doe” in the 2011 county grand jury report.
Rose has argued that Shero never assaulted the witness – or caused his later problems with drugs and the law.
The witness maintained that he was afraid to tell anyone about the assaults by the two priests in the sacristy of St. Jerome’s church, or the assault by Shero, who was his homeroom and English teacher.
Shero, 49, and the Rev. Charles Engelhardt, 66, are on trial for the alleged assaults on Billy when he was in fifth and sixth grades at St. Jerome’s.
The other priest, Edward Avery, now 70, pleaded guilty last year shortly before he was to go on trial with two other priests in the investigation of clergy sex abuse of children in the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Avery, now defrocked and serving a 2-1/2 to five years in prison and may be called by prosecutors to testify in the trial of Shero and Engelhardt.
The pair are the last two of five people charged as a result of the 2011 county grand jury report.
Last year’s landmark three-month trial ended June 22 when the jury found Msgr. William J. Lynn guilty of child endangerment, the first church administrator convicted for a priest’s sexual abuse of a child.
Lynn, 62, who as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 was responsible for investigating allegations against priests, was sentenced to 3 to 6 years. He is in a state prison and appealing his conviction.
Prosecutors say they never received convicted priest’s polygraph test
By John P. Martin
Inquirer Staff Writer
Philadelphia prosecutors scoffed Tuesday at a new claim by defense lawyers that they withheld evidence that might have helped Msgr. William J. Lynn at his landmark child-sex abuse and endangerment trial.
The District Attorney’s Office never received a formal statement or polygraph results suggesting that Lynn’s codefendant, former priest Edward Avery, lied when he admitted sexually assaulting an altar boy, according to Hugh Burns, chief of the appeals unit.
The accuser’s testimony about the 1999 attack became a cornerstone of Lynn’s trial.
“To say that we knew [Avery] was innocent was, I’m sorry, it’s insane,” Burns said. “What we know is that he formally pleaded guilty because he had evidence that made him guilty.”
Burns’ comments marked the office’s first response since defense lawyers Monday cited Avery in their latest bid to win bail for Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Burns said he would file a formal reply to the Superior Court motion within two weeks, but wanted to counter specious claims by the monsignor’s defense.
Avery, 70, was a critical figure in the case, even though the Common Pleas Court jurors never heard or saw him.
Four days before the trial opened in March, Avery pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the 10-year-old boy at St. Jerome parish in Northeast Philadelphia and conspiring with Lynn to endanger children.
Three months later, jurors convicted Lynn of one count of endangerment because he let Avery live at the parish and celebrate Mass there in the 1990s despite knowing the priest molested a boy in a previous assignment.
Lynn is now serving three to six years in state prison.
In their bail motion, attorneys Thomas Bergstrom, Allison Khaskelis, and Alan Tauber said they learned only last month that Avery had passed a polygraph test in which he denied assaulting, or even knowing, the former altar boy.
Bergstrom said one of Avery’s lawyers told him about the polygraph.
The motion says Avery agreed to admit molesting another boy in the 1970s, but prosecutors insisted instead that he plead guilty to the attack on the St. Jerome’s boy.
In return, Avery got a 2½- to five-year prison term, one far shorter than what he faced if he had been convicted at trial, where prosecutors were prepared to show jurors evidence that he molested at least a half-dozen boys.
The monsignor’s defenders said the district attorneys knew about Avery’s denial and the polygraph results, but did not share them because they were “driven by a zealous and single-minded desire” to convict Lynn, the first church official charged with covering up clergy sex-abuse.
They contend that this violated long-standing court rules requiring government lawyers to turn over any evidence that could be considered exculpatory for a defendant.
Burns disputed the facts and the argument.
Guilty defendants typically insist they are innocent at first, he noted. And he said prosecutors never saw any polygraph results – but even if they had, they would not have been required to share them because the material came from a codefendant and was not uncovered by government investigators.
Besides, the appeals chief said, the results of a polygraph commissioned for a defendant by a defendant would not have mattered.
“It would have made no difference,” Burns said, “because polygraphs are not reliable – and that’s why they are not admissible in court.”
Lynn’s lawyers say the information could have shaped their tactical decisions at trial.
The lawyers said they had considered cross-examining Avery’s accuser, but that Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina made it clear such a line of questioning would open the door for prosecutors to tell jurors about Avery’s guilty plea. So the man’s testimony stood unchallenged.
Taleah Grimmage, one of the jurors, acknowledged Tuesday that the testimony from the former altar boy “definitely played a large part” in their guilty verdict against Lynn.
“He was the face, the voice,” of Avery and Lynn’s crimes, Grimmage said in an interview.
But the man’s testimony wasn’t the only evidence that swayed jurors, she said. Lynn’s decision to let Avery live at the rectory and celebrate Mass at the church endangered other children as well, she said.
“A lot of us felt that if [the accuser] didn’t exist, there were other potential children who did come in contact with Father Avery,” Grimmage said.
The issue could ripple beyond Lynn’s appeal. Avery had been listed as a potential witness in the January trial of the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero, who are charged with sexually abusing the same altar boy at St. Jerome’s.
The accuser also has a civil suit pending against Avery, Lynn, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.