Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington notified Judge M. Teresa Sarmina this morning that the Commonwealth is seeking a new trial date for Father James J. Brennan.
Father Brennan was charged with attempted rape of a 14-year-old, but the jury deadlocked on June 22, after 13 days of deliberation with an 11-1 vote to acquit the priest, according to Juror No. 7, Taleah Grimmage. The jury also deadlocked on a second charge against Father Brennan, endangering the welfare of a child. Grimmage said the jury was evenly split on the endangerment charge.
A third charge against the priest, conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child, was thrown out by Judge Sarmina as not proven.
Father Brennan's lawyer, William J. Brennan, no relation, had pledged to defend his client if the district attorney sought a new trial. "I think it's lunacy to retry the case, with the jury split 11-1 on the attempted rape charge," Brennan said before the district attorney's office announced its decision today.
Jurors in the case said they had problems with the credibility of Brennan's accuser, alleged victim Mark Bukowski, now 30 years old. Jurors said that Bukowski's mother further muddied the waters when she testified that she would "never really know" what happened between her son and her favorite priest.
The case has been beset with problems since its inception. In a 2011 grand jury report, Father Brennan was originally charged with rape, after Bukowski, then 14, spent the night at the priest's apartment in West Chester in 1996, and wound up sleeping in the priest's bed.
A graphic account of the alleged crime contained in the grand jury report had charged that Father Brennan had anally raped Bukowski, and that the sobbing youngster fell asleep with the priest's erect penis inside him. Then the judge threw up a gag order. By the time the case went to trial this year, the charge of rape had been downgraded to an attempted rape, where the victim admitted that both he and Father Brennan were wearing T-shirts and boxer shorts during their encounter.
Defense attorney Brennan dubbed the alleged attack a "savage spooning." The district attorney's office has never explained the vast gulf between the grand jury report and the reduced charged at trial.
District Attorney Seth Williams, however, released a two-sentence statement today explaining his decision to retry the case: "James Brennan used his position as a priest to prey upon and victimize this young man. It is extremely important that Brennan be held accountable for his crime, not just for his victim but for all victims of sexual abuse."
After the district attorney announced his decision, defense lawyer William J. Brennan spoke to reporters.
"While we are disappointed in the decision, we will defend Father Brennan as zealously, if not more so, as we did in round one," William J. Brennan said. "While we certainly respect the notion of justice for victims of sexual abuse, it has been my position and remains so that the lone accuser in this case does not fall into that category."
During the trial, defense lawyer Brennan attacked alleged victim Mark Bukowski as a serial liar who had been and out of jail after committing one crime after another.
Today, William J. Brennan spoke about the strain of the district attorney's continuing crusade against his client.
"Father Brennan was forced to endure a four-month odyssey wherein he was tarred and feathered with 65 years of archdiocese foibles that had nothing to do with him," Brennan said of the 13-week trial that dwelled on the charges against Msgr. William J. Lynn, as well as the sins of 21 other priests that the pro-prosecution judge let into the case, to show a pattern of behavior on the part of the archdiocese.
"Having endured that, he was acquitted on one charge from the bench," Brennan said. "The jury was 11 to 1 on the lead charge and there are serious issues with the statute on the last charge."
The defense, in arguments rejected by Judge Sarmina, has previously pointed out that the Commonwealth missed the statute of limitations on the charge of endangering the welfare of a child by nine years.
"What about justice for Father Brennan?" his lawyer asked. "Enough is enough."
When they do get around to retrying Father Brennan, one main character may be missing from the sequel. Judge Sarmina indicated in court today that she would not be presiding when the case is retried. Sarmina has a busy criminal schedule. Father Brennan is due back in court on Aug. 14 for a status conference in Courtroom 904, at which time the case may be referred to a new judge.