Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Priest's Dying Declaration In Prison

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The night before Father Charles Engelhardt died, a fellow inmate claims,  the priest gave a dying declaration:

"Paul, I do not feel well. Please understand that I am an innocent man, who was wrongly convicted."

On Dec. 22, the inmate, Paul H. Eline, a former Temple Law student, filed as an intervenor with the state Superior Court in the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Charles Engelhardt, appellant. In his application for third party intervention, Eline wrote that the matters he was bringing to the court's attention were "critical and constitute 'extraordinary circumstances' " that should be made part of the record.

At the time of his death last month, Engelhardt was an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Northumberland County. The 67-year-old priest  had served nearly two years of a 6-to-12 year-sentence after being convicted on Jan. 30, 2013 of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. His accuser, however, a former altar boy dubbed Billy Doe, told an incredible and constantly changing story subsequently refuted by evidence gathered by the district attorney's own detectives. The priest died during an ambulance ride on the way to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa. while his conviction was under appeal with the state Superior Court.

Under federal rules of evidence, a dying declaration is an exception to the hearsay rule and is admissible as evidence in criminal homicide or civil cases. In his court filing, inmate Eline argues that in his final moments of life the priest had no reason to lie.

"There is no other reason for Charles F. Engelhardt to state anything but the truth, knowing that his life will be lost to improper medical procedures," Eline wrote in a "dissertation in support" of his application to intervene.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Revenge Of The Norcrosses

Jimmy Kempski/Photo: Thomas Carroll
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The big black billboard on the Walt Whitman Bridge promotes the new sportswriter for PhillyVoice.com: "All Birds. No Bull. With Jimmy Kempski."

That's the same Jimmy Kempski who used to be an Eagles blogger for philly.com. He jumped ship to join the rival media startup brought to you by George E. Norcross III and his daughter Lexie.

Just seven months after they lost the court-ordered auction of Interstate General Media [IGM] -- the parent company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com -- the Norcrosses are back on the local media stage playing with house money.

Norcross, the Democratic boss of South Jersey, and two business partners, William P. Hankowsky and Joseph E. Buckelew, had invested a total of $35 million in IGM. The Norcross ownership faction walked away from the May 27th auction with $41.7 million after expenses; a net profit of $6.7 million. No wonder the ads for PhillyVoice.com brag that the new venture is a "well-funded media startup serving the Philadelphia and South Jersey region."

It's a stark contrast between media rivals. Over at PhillyVoice.com, George's daughter Lexie, the new managing director, is busy hiring. But at rival IGM,  owned by Norcross's former business partner, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, they're laying off 21 senior employees in a new round of buyouts that's the subject of a grievance filed by the Newspaper Guild.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Galati Asks For Court-Appointed Lawyer

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Ron Galati's broke.

The South Philadelphia auto body shop owner accused to orchestrating a $5 million insurance  scam told a judge this morning that he does not have the money to pay for a lawyer in either of the two pending criminal trials he is facing in Common Pleas Court.

"Exactly right," Galati said when Judge Jeffrey Minehart asked if he could not afford to hire an attorney for either the insurance fraud conspiracy case or a murder-for-hire case in which he is a defendant.

Assistant District Attorney Dawn Holtz said her office believes Galati has the financial ability to retain private counsel.

"He may not be able to afford the best attorney in the land," Holtz said during a brief hearing before Minehart. But she said her office believes Galati has assets and that "the City of Philadelphia and the taxpayers of Philadelphia should not be paying" his legal bills.

Minehart set a Jan. 8 hearing date on the financial question. Holtz said her office would offer evidence showing that Galati can afford an attorney.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Billy Goes Viral

The new media superstar
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The improbable story of "Billy Doe," the former Philadelphia altar boy who claimed he was raped by a couple of priests and a Catholic school teacher, has gone viral.

Rolling Stone opened the door by apologizing for the improbable story it ran about "Jackie," the University of Virginia freshman who claimed she was raped by seven guys at a fraternity party.

Big Trial's contribution to the unfolding scandal was to point out that before they fell for Jackie's story, reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone bought Billy's bogus tale. In a classic case of the media turning on itself, the Big Trial post about Billy and Rolling Stone attracted 50,000 hits to this website in two days.

The local scandal about Billy, ignored by the hometown press, was suddenly hot news to The Daily Caller, and a bunch of websites such as jimromenesko.com, hotair.com, and fark.com, Even The Daily Mail, the British national newspaper, weighed in with a story about Billy.

And we're not done yet. The Washington Post and Newsweek are hot on the trail as well. Over at the District Attorney's office, our stonewalling D.A. Seth Williams is probably hoping he gets through this news cycle unscathed. Seth, however, does have a distant but curious link to Rolling Stone's Billy story that has attracted the curiosity of the national media.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Before Rolling Stone Ran With Jackie's Story They Fell for Billy's

Sabrina Rubin Erdely
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Before a writer for Rolling Stone ran with an alleged gang-rape story told by a student named "Jackie," she bought an alleged multiple-rape story told by a former altar boy named "Billy."

On Nov. 19th, Rolling Stone published an article claiming that "Jackie," a student at the University of Virginia, had been allegedly gang-raped by seven men at a fraternity party. ["A Rape on Campus; A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice At UVA."]

The fraternity was tried in the media and found guilty. Bricks were thrown through the windows of the frat house, the cops in Charlottesville were called in to investigate, and the university president shut down all fraternity and sorority events on campus.

Then, The Washington Post, citing factual discrepancies, cast doubt on the victim's story. Rolling Stone rolled over almost immediately, issuing an apology that said their trust in Jackie had been "misplaced."

There's lots of irony here folks for readers of this blog. The writer of the story in question, Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely, is from Philadelphia. Before she ran with Jackie's story, she fell for a story told by a former altar boy dubbed "Billy Doe" by a grand jury.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Galati's Lawyer Bows Out

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Wannabe wiseguy Ron Galati, the South Philadelphia auto body shop owner with a Godfather fixation, wants to keep fighting. But it looks like he'll have to do battle without the services of topnotch criminal defense attorney Anthony Voci Jr.

Voci has filed motions to withdraw as Galati's attorney in a pending murder-for-hire case and a massive insurance fraud conspiracy case. Both are listed for trial in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

"My client does not have sufficient funds to allow me to continue," Voci said in a brief comment today when asked about the withdrawal motions. Voci, a former Assistant District Attorney, represented Galati in another murder-for-hire case in federal court in Camden earlier this year.

In that case, Galati was convicted of hiring two hitmen to murder the boyfriend of his estranged daughter. The boyfriend survived the hit and was one of several key witnesses. The two hitmen, a third conspirator and Galati's daughter Tiffany also took the stand for the government.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Trying To Peddle The Ultimate Contrarian Story

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

When I was a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer and had a story to pitch, I used to go editor shopping.

Back in the 1990s when the newspaper had 600 journalists, there were so many departments to shop in -- news, features, sports, the projects desk where they did long, boring investigative stories, and the Sunday magazine. And so many different editors to pitch a story to. If one editor said no it was on to the next one until I made a sale.

Sadly, one rule applied to too many editors I dealt with. If you told them something they already knew, something that squared with the prevailing wisdom, you were in good shape. But if you told those same editors something new, especially something that might challenge the prevailing wisdom, that's when the trouble started.

On this blog for the past two years, we've been dealing with the ultimate contrarian story. A junkie criminal scheming to get out of prison poses as a victim of clerical sex abuse. A politically ambitious district attorney drafts that junkie criminal as his star witness to put men in collars behind bars while the media and public cheer him on. Even though people in the D.A.'s own office privately agreed with defense lawyer Michael J. McGovern's assessment of star witness Billy Doe as a "lying sack of shit."

It's the story nobody wants to hear because it runs counter to the cult of victimology and current, pervasive prejudices against Catholic clerics. But in Philadelphia, with three courts prying into the local district attorney's self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the truth is lurking out there. Especially in the civil case beginning next month when certain current and former members of the district attorney's office are placed under oath and have to answer some tough questions about a bogus investigation rigged from day one.

Friday, November 21, 2014

"I Accept This Injustice"

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

An oblate of St. Francis de Sales takes priestly vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He prays to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

Few who pray that prayer could have ever imagined the fate that befell Father Charles Engelhardt.

That was the message of the homily delivered today by Father Michael Connolly at the funeral of Father Engelhardt, his friend and fellow oblate of nearly 50 years.

An oblate wears a silver cross around his neck, Father Connolly said. He fished his own cross out of his priestly garments to show the crowd. It's a cross an oblate receives on the occasion of his first presentation of faith, the priest said. It's not a crucifix; there's no body on it.

"Charlie was the body on that cross in his life," Father Connolly said. Like Jesus, Father Engelhardt was falsely accused, tried, and convicted, Father Connolly said. Like Jesus, "Charlie endured his suffering" with patience and humility, Father Connolly said. Like Jesus, Father Engelhardt was repeatedly humiliated before he died as a prisoner.

What was Charlie Engehlardt's response to his fate?

"I accept this injustice believing God will make it right in the end." That's what Father Engelhardt repeatedly told his lawyers and fellow oblates, Father Connolly said. It would be Father Engelhardt's parting message on the day that his family and fellow oblates gathered to bury him.

 

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