By Ralph Cipriano
In short, it was a great day for the prosecution, but the big test is yet to come. On Wednesday, Billy Doe will be cross-examined for the first time by defense lawyers for Engelhardt and Shero. Whether his story holds up will probably decide the case.
In court today, the prosecution set up Billy's testimony by sending four witnesses to the stand who could confirm various parts of his story. They came in reverse order of importance.
The first witness was Lynda St. Peter, the 50-year-old mother of a former classmate of Billy's.
The first witness was Lynda St. Peter, the 50-year-old mother of a former classmate of Billy's.
St. Peter, a non-Catholic, said she enrolled her son John, now 24, in St. Jerome's because she wanted him to have a better and safer education that he could get in the public schools. John St. Peter became an altar boy who served at Mass with Billy.
Lynda St. Peter recounted that Billy frequently called John to try and get him to take his turn as an altar boy. She never gave a second thought to Billy's repeated efforts to get out of serving Mass until March 2010, when a detective from the Special Investigations Unit called her son, and told him that back in fifth or sixth grade, one of his classmates at St. Jerome's may have been molested.
Lynda St. Peter told the jury how that night, her son John, and his younger sister Samantha, 21, who also attended St. Jerome's, took out John's old eighth grade yearbook and went through the pictures, trying to guess who the victim of sex abuse might be.
"They both decided that it was" Billy, St. Peter told the jury, prompting a defense objection that was overruled by Judge Ellen Ceisler.
John St. Peter, 24, was the second witness. He told the jury that he met Billy when they were both Cub Scouts in first grade. Billy was "a happy kid, very outspoken, always joking, positive." The two boys played hockey together. Then, some time after the fifth or sixth grade, John St. Peter said he noticed a change in Billy.
"He just stopped talking,"St. Peter said. "He secluded himself from everything."
Then, in 2010, when he got a call from a detective, St. Peter said of his family, "We were all so shocked." That's when he and his sister went through John's old year book and stopped turning the pages when they came to Billy's picture.
The yearbook story prompted another objection from Michael J. McGovern, the lawyer representing Father Engelhardt.
"Your Honor, this is a parlor game," McGovern objected, but he was overruled once again by the judge.
On cross-examination, John St. Peter stuck to his story. "I saw a dramatic difference," he told the jury. Billy had become "a dark, secluded kid."
McGovern whipped out that old St. Jerome's yearbook and showed St. Peter photo after photo that showed Billy mugging for the camera.
"Does that seem like a dark, dreary person?" McGovern asked.
"He's smiling," St. Peter conceded. "He's doing a silly pose," he said when confronted with another yearbook photo.
McGovern pressed his argument. He kept trying to bring out that according to grand jury testimony, not even Billy's mother detected the drastic change that St. Peter saw in Billy. Who knows this kid better, you or his mother, McGovern asked. That line of questioning prompted frequent objections from the prosecution, and every time, the judge overruled the combative but clearly frustrated defense lawyer.
"Mr. McGovern, do you want to give a speech, or do you want an answer to your question?" the judge finally said, before McGovern gave up and sat down.
On redirect, Ast. District Attorney Mark Cipolletti asked St. Peter what his take was on Bernard Shero.
"Being older, looking back, his actions were inappropriate," St. Peter said, prompting another objection from Burton A. Rose, Shero's lawyer, which was also overruled by the judge.
When asked by Cipolletti to elaborate, St. Peter said that Shero frequently put his hands on students, rubbing their backs and in general, was often "getting inside your personal space."
Next up was Robert Bowman, 25, another former classmate of Billy's from St. Jerome's. Bowman, another former altar boy, told the jury that when he met Billy in the second or third grade, he was an "energetic, talkative, extroverted, friendly guy."
"Around sixth or seventh grade, you could definitely see a change in him," Bowman said. "He just became introverted, a loner." Bowman recalled seeing Billy frequently walking by himself with his hood up over his head. "He looked ashamed," Bowman said, prompting another defense objection that was overruled.
The prosecutor asked Bowman about Shero.
"He was my sixth grade teacher," Bowman said. "He was a strange guy, he was pretty weird."
After another defense objection was overruled, Bowman said that Shero was "very touchy-feely," and that he once recalled seeing him snap a female classmate's bra strap.
Did you see that, Bowman recalled telling classmates.
The fourth and final set-up witness -- and by far the best -- was Leo Hernandez.
Hernandez, 24, a charismatic, self-assured Air Force veteran, testified that he met Billy on the first day of class at the International Christian Academy, when the two were both 14-year-old high school sophomores.
"We met, clicked, and been friends ever since," Hernandez said. He recalled how his friendship had blossomed with Billy.
"I was [Billy's] protector and confidante," Hernandez said. At the time he met Billy, he had "blonde highlights in his hair" and clearly looked like an outsider in a black and Latino neighborhood.
"In a couple of situations, I had to get involved and protect" Billy, Hernandez said.
The friendship took another turn when a high school teacher got "touchy-feely" with both boys, and began putting out "weird sexual type vibes," Hernandez said.
To ward off unwanted attention, Hernandez and Billy typed up a Bible verse that railed against the evils of homosexuality, and slipped the note under the teacher's door. But Hernandez noticed that Billy was much more rattled by the teacher's actions than Hernandez was.
One night, when they were hanging out in the basement of Billy's house, two underage kids drinking beer, Billy explained that he had run into men like that before.
Billy flashed two emotions that night, Hernandez testified, he was "angry and nervous."
Hernandez tried to tell the jury how difficult it was for Billy to talk about his ordeal at St. Jerome's.
"It's hard for me to talk about it in front of these people," Hernandez told the prosecutor. Imagine how hard it was for Billy to talk about it to "his best guy friend," Hernandez said.
Billy told him that back in fifth grade at St. Jerome's, "two priests would touch him and try to penetrate" him, Hernandez testified. Then, in the sixth grade, Billy told Hernandez, " a teacher got involved and had sex with him."
"I was shocked, I was angry," Hernandez told the jury.
They were friends for two or three years after their sophomore year. But then Billy "got involved in drugs; heroin to be exact," Hernandez said. Hernandez moved to Puerto Rico and joined the Air Force. As for his old buddy Billy, "He kept heading down that other path," Hernandez said.
Last September, Hernandez was back in Philadelphia when he ran into Billy at a bar. They wound up hugging each other and talking for hours. Hernandez told the jury it was clear that Billy had cleaned himself up. "He's a whole 'nother" Billy, a smiling Hernandez testified. "He's not a heroin addict any more."
On cross-examination, Hernandez stuck to his story without any sign of hesitation. He told incredulous defense lawyers that Billy had definitely come clean when they were just 14 year-old kids that night drinking beer in Billy's basement. When asked why Billy never talked about the subject of sex abuse again, but came clean to his pal about his drug problems, Hernandez said, "Talking about drugs is pretty easy. Taking about a grown man touching you, that's pretty hard."
On redirect, Ast. District Attorney Cipolletti asked Hernandez if Billy had made such a confession, why didn't Hernandez go the police and report the abuse?
"I'd be breaking [Billy's] trust," Hernandez said, before he left the witness stand.
The stage was set for Billy Doe.
He had last appeared in this same courtroom on April 25, 2012, when he testified at the trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn. Billy seemed shaky that day and less than confident. He got a break when defense lawyers decided not to cross-examine him.
But Bill Lynn was convicted on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, namely Billy, because a jury decided that Lynn did not do enough to keep a known abuser, Father Edward V. Avery, from raping Billy. Lynn is now serving a prison sentence of three to six years; Avery two and a half to five years.
Today, Billy told the jury how he got out of a drug rehab on Jan. 8, 2012, and has been clean and sober ever since. He said he's been living in Florida, where he works at his uncle's landscaping business.
He lived only a mile from St. Jerome's, and it only took him five to ten minutes to walk home.
To his Catholic family, priests were a big deal, Billy told the jury.
"They're servants of God," Billy testified. "You don't question them; you do what they say."
He used to assist Father Engelhardt when he said Mass. Billy remembered the priest as a "pretty nice" guy who was always cracking jokes. As an altar boy, Billy said, one of his jobs was to dispose of any left over sacramental wine. One day, Father Engelhardt caught Billy drinking the wine, rather than dumping it.
Billy was in a panic over being caught, but Father Engelhardt sat down beside him and "poured me more wine." The priest asked if Billy had a girlfriend, and if he had ever looked at porn.
The priest brought out his own collection, Billy told the jury, and showed the 10-year-old altar boy both heterosexual and homosexual porn. Meanwhile, the priest asked Billy if he had any girlfriends or boyfriends.
Billy told the jury he was thinking that the priest was pretty cool until he started talking about "sessions." The priest told Billy he was about to become a man and that "my sessions were going to begin."
A couple of weeks later, during the winter of the 1998-99 school year, Billy testified, Father Engelhardt asked him to stay after Mass, and "he told me my sessions were going to begin. He told me it was time for me to become a man."
At the time, the priest and the altar boy were in the sacristy at St. Jerome's.
Billy told the jury that the priest began by rubbing Billy's back and telling him that God loved him. "He started caressing me," and he told the boy to undress.
"Everything was going to be OK," Billy testified the priest told him. The priest caressed the boy's penis and performed oral sex on him. "I think he got tired and he wanted his turn,"Billy said.
The priest had the boy perform oral sex on him. Father Engelhardt told him, "Yes, I was doing a good job, I was doing it right,"Billy testified. After the priest ejaculated, the priest said, "God loves me,"Billy told the jury.
"He said I did a good job and then I was dismissed," Billy told the jury. "I walked home."
He didn't tell anyone because, "I was scared, I was embarrassed, I thought I was gonna get in trouble. I thought I did something wrong."
A week later, the priest tried to schedule another session with him, but Billy said he got angry and told the priest if he ever came near him, "I was gonna kill him."
The next predator to strike was Father Avery. It happened in the Spring of that same 1998-99 school year. Billy was still a fifth-grader. The priest lived in the same rectory at St. Jerome's as Father Engelhardt. Father Avery told Billy he had talked to Father Engelhardt about Billy, and that "our sessions were going to begin soon."
Father Avery took the boy into a storage closet just outside the sacristy and ordered him to strip. "He just sat there with this erie smile that he had." Father Avery played music on his boom box and had the boy dance while he took his clothes off. He told Billy, "Everything is going to be OK; this is what God wants," Billy testified.
The priest had the boy rub his leg and his genitals. The priest performed oral sex on the boy and inserted a finger into the boy's anus.
"I screamed," Billy testified. Next, the priest made the boy perform oral sex on him "until he ejaculated on me, on my chest, on my stomach."
"He gave me a cloth, he told me to wipe myself." After the priest was done, "I just walked around the neighborhood," Billy told the jury. "I thought it was my fault."
A few weeks later, in the sacristy, the priest told the boy it was time for another session. They returned to the storage room, and the priest had the boy strip again. The priest performed oral sex on the boy, and licked his rectum. Then the priest had the boy perform oral sex on him until he ejaculated.
"I went home and took a shower," Billy said. Once again, he didn't tell anybody.
"I thought I did something wrong; I thought it was my fault; I thought I was gonna get in trouble," Billy said. "I became very withdrawn, I stopped hanging with my friends ... I was very depressed."
The next year, in sixth grade, Billy's teacher for English and home room was Bernard Shero.
Billy said he thought Shero was weird. He was "touchy-feely" and always talking about the hygiene of the penis.
One day after school, Shero offered to drive Billy home, but after Billy got in, Shero drove off in the opposite direction. He stopped the car in Pennypack Park.
He brought Billy in the back seat, undressed the boy, and attempted to anally rape him.
"I screamed and kind of pulled away."
Shero then had Billy perform oral sex on him until the teacher climaxed.
"I ended up just getting out of the car and walking home," Billy said.
Billy told the jury how he began smoking marijuana and taking pills before he became a "full-blown heroin addict." He said he had been in more than 20 drug rehabilitation clinics before he finally kicked his habit. He's also been arrested many times for drug possession.
Billy told the jury how he called an archdiocese hot line for sex abuse. But when counselors came to his home to visit him, "I was retarded," Billy said. "I was high on numerous drugs and semi-comatose" when he talked to the counselors.
But today, he said, he's a sober man.
On Wednesday, a jury will see whether Billy's story holds up under cross-examination. Expect the defense lawyers to bring the heat.
The stakes will be high. At the first archdiocese trial, a prosecution-friendly judge allowed the district attorney to parade an army of detectives and alleged abuse victims through the witness box, so they could testify about a pattern of abuse in the archdiocese that allegedly dated back to the 1940s.
This time around, however, Billy is expected to be the only victim to take the stand. So the fate of lthis case rests entirely on Billy's thin shoulders.