The judge in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial left open the possibility Monday that prosecutors may be allowed to haul into court a former priest who, on the eve of trial, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old boy.
Edward V. Avery, a defrocked former archdiocese priest, is now serving a prison sentence of between 2 1/2 to 5 years. But his chief accuser, namely the former altar boy that he abused, is due in court on Wednesday. The question is whether defense attorneys in the case will be allowed to challenge the victim's credibility on cross-examination.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington told Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that if she rules that defense lawyers can challenge the victim's credibility, "We're back to square one, with Avery on trial here." That's when the judge suggested that the prosecution had the option of seeking permission to haul Avery back in court.
The jury has not been told about Avery's guilty plea. This was done at the request of the defense, which was worried that the news would prejudice the jury into thinking that Msgr. William J. Lynn was also guilty. Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for clergy, is on trial on charges of conspiring with Avery, and another co-defendant, Father James Brennan, to endanger the welfare of minors by allowing both priests to continue in ministry.
But Blessington complained that it would be misleading to allow the defense to attack the credibility of his accuser, and not tell the jury that Avery had already pleaded guilty to the charges. The assistant district attorney said by not getting rid of Avery earlier, "Lynn put a power keg out there, and his name is Avery."
"We're back at square one, to prove beyond an unreasonable doubt that the powder keg exploded," Blessington said.
But the defense wasn't convinced. "Mr. Blessington's argument doesn't make sense," said Jeff Lindy, one of the defense lawyers for Msgr. Lynn. Lindy said the whole case was about intent. "This trial is about his [Lynn's] state of mind," the defense lawyer said. In other words, was Msgr. Lynn consciously conspiring with Father Avery when Avery was allowed to continue in ministry.
Both sides indicated they had plenty more to say about the subject, before Avery's accuser shows up in court on Wednesday. So the judge said she would end court at 3:30 p.m. Thursday so the lawyers in the case could present some case law and make some final arguments. Then the judge will announce her decision.