By Ralph Cipriano
Defense lawyers today took the 24-year-old sex abuse victim known as "Billy Doe" on a one-way trip back to Catholic grade school, courtesy of what one lawyer jokingly referred to as "the Wayback machine."
For those of you who missed the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, the Wayback machine used to transport Mr. Peabody the time-traveling mutt and his pet boy Sherman back to famous moments in history.
In Courtroom 304 at the Criminal Justice Center, Billy was confronted with blown-up copies of all his report cards from grades five through eight. He was quizzed about his attendance record, the names of his old grade school teachers, and they even handed him a parochial school uniform, with a monogrammed blue short-sleeve polo shirt and pants, just like the one he used to wear back when he was a fifth and sixth grader at the St. Jerome Catholic School in Northeast Philadelphia.
It was all part of a rigorous two-hour cross-examination that found many inconsistencies in Billy's story, but landed no knockout blows. At the end, a deflated-looking Michael J. McGovern seemed to cut short his questioning prematurely. Prosecutors appeared surprised and elated by how well Billy had held up on cross. And Billy's supporters left the courtroom saying the defense hadn't laid a glove on their boy.
Defense lawyer Burton A. Rose, representing Charles Shero, Billy's former sixth-grade teacher, got things started today by placing Billy's blown-up report cards on a flimsy easel that would soon collapse.
Rose asked Billy if he had seen his old report cards lately.
"Not in a very long time," Billy said.
Rose reviewed Billy's direct testimony. The witness had claimed that back when he was a 10-year-old in fifth grade at St. Jerome's, he was raped by two priests, Father Charles Engelhardt, on trial in Courtroom 304, and a former priest, Edward V. Avery, now serving a 2 1/2 to 5 year prison sentence for raping Billy.
Billy's story was that he underwent a severe personality change after the rapes, morphing from a popular extrovert to a sullen and depressed loner. Rose, however, pointed to Billy's report cards, showing a consistent B average, starting with an 88.6 average for the year in fifth grade, and ending with a 80.7 average for the year in eight grade.
Along the way, Billy remained involved in numerous school activities, had a largely satisfactory behavior record, and a stellar attendance record. He missed only six days in 5th grade, and only five days in sixth grade.
The day after Billy claimed he was raped by Father Avery during the 1988-89 school year, "You went to school the next day," Rose said. What's up with that?
"It was a school," Billy replied. "I had to go."
"And you tell no one about this?" Rose asked.
"No," Billy said.
Billy also told a grand jury that after he was raped by Father Avery, he got sick and missed a lot of time at school. But his fifth grade report card showed that during the quarterly marking period where Billy said he was raped by Avery, he didn't miss one day of school.
"I was going to school," Billy said, and often leaving early. "I went to the nurse" a lot, he added.
Did you tell the doctor what happened to you, Rose asked.
No, Billy said.
"Well how did you expect them to treat you if you don't tell them what happened," Rose asked.
"They're doctors," Billy replied.
Why didn't you tell the doctors, Rose asked.
"I was scared," Billy said.
"Of the doctors?" Rose asked incredulously.
"I thought I was gonna get in trouble," Billy said.
Rose also asked about Billy's weight. Billy had said he lost a lot of weight after he was attacked, but Rose said the boy's medical records showed he had gained weight during that period.
Rose quizzed Billy on all the drugs he had taken.
He started at 11 with marijuana, Billy said. Then he graduated to Percosets, Xanax, and hallucinogenics, namely acid and mushrooms.
"You would see things?" Rose asked.
Yes, Billy said, on magic mushrooms he had "out of body experiences."
Rose wanted to know why Billy and his family consulted with two civil lawyers, one of whom was Adam Beloff, after Billy notified the archdiocese in 2009, via a telephone hot line, about how he had been abused.
"We wanted someone as a front man for protection," Billy said. The lawyers told Billy he had missed the statute of limitations, so there was nothing they could for him.
Rose reviewed Billy's accusations against his client, Bernard Shero, Billy's sixth grade teacher. Billy said the year after two priests raped him, Shero drove him to a secluded spot in Pennypack Park, took Billy in the back seat, and undressed him. Then he took off his clothes and had sex with the boy.
"You can see what's gonna happen," Rose said. "You don't bolt then and there?"
"Cause I was scared," Billy said.
Rose cited inconsistencies in Billy's story. Billy told counselors from the archdiocese that during the attack by Shero, the teacher tore off the boy's shirt and punched him in the face.
Billy said he was high when he spoke to the archdiocese counselors, and didn't remember what he told them.
You also told them that Shero took a seat belt and wrapped it around your neck, Rose said.
"Did that happen?"
"No," Billy said.
Billy also told the counselors that Shero tried to have the boy put his penis in the teacher's anus.
That happened, Billy said. "It wasn't successful."
Rose asked what positions the two were in during the alleged attack in the back seat of Shero's car.
"He tried to sit on top of me," Billy said. "He was sitting there and he was trying to push back on me."
Rose reviewed Billy's arrest record, including an arrest from last June. Two months after he testified at the trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn, Billy was arrested for having "a large amount" of drugs "in his possession, namely "56 bags of heroin."
"What were you going to do with them?" Rose wanted to know.
"Do them," Billy said. At the height of his heroin addiction, Billy said, he was dong "about 15 or 20 bags a day."
The case against Billy is still open, and has been postponed until after the current archdiocese sex abuse trial.
The postponement was decided by Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Adam Beloff, Rose said. The same Adam Beloff that Billy said he had consulted when Beloff was still a lawyer.
Judge Ellen Ceisler promptly shut down that line of questioning. "That's a misstatement of the evidence," she told Rose.
Judge Beloff committed suicide last December.
Next, it was Michael J. McGovern's turn to question Billy on behalf of his client, Father Charles Engelhardt.
McGovern asked Billy when he started drinking wine. Back in second grade, he said. Later on, as an altar boy, he helped himself to sacramental wine.
Billy admitted at 11, he was smoking pot on a daily basis. He also admitted firing up a blunt as a 10th grader on the day he met his high school best friend, Leo Hernandez. Hernandez joined him in smoking the blunt, Billy said.
McGovern returned to the subject of Judge Adam Beloff postponing Billy's current drug case until after the current archdiocese sex abuse trial is over.
"You think that's a coincidence?" McGovern wanted to know.
"I don't have a say when they schedule it," Billy said.
McGovern sited inconsistencies between Billy's testimony on the witness stand, and what he told the counselors from the archdiocese who came to his house after he called the archdiocese sex abuse hot line.
"I was not mentally there," Billy said.
But you told the counselors that Father Engelhardt anally raped you in the sacristy at St. Jerome's for five hours, McGovern said.
The judge took Billy's side. "He doesn't remember anything of what he said to them," she told McGovern. Time to move on.
McGovern turned to another subject, the rape of Billy by Father Avery. Your story is that you were a fifth-grader working in the sacristy as part of the maintenance crew for the church's bell choir, and the priest asked you to stay after Mass, McGovern said.
Would it surprise you, McGovern said, to know that the teacher who ran the bell choir at St. Jerome's was interviewed by a detective, and she said that not only were no fifth-graders allowed to be part of the bell maintenance crew. Neither were sixth or seventh graders allowed. Only eighth graders could be members of the bell maintenance crew, McGovern said.
Billy seemed surprised by that. Expect to hear all about that bell choir maintenance crew next week, when the defense puts on its case.
McGovern said that Billy had told the jury he had one sexual encounter with Father Engelhardt, in the church sacristy at St. Jerome's. But he told a detective from the Special Investigations Unit that he had five encounters with Father Engelhardt.
Did you ever see the statement from the detective?
No, Billy said.
No, Billy said.
The detective is on the witness list for tomorrow.
McGovern asked Billy about his use of psychedelic drugs.
"Ever get flash backs?"
"Yes," Billy said.
McGovern asked Billy about the death of his feisty Italian grandmother, who had cancer that turned her into a virtual skeleton before she died in 2002 at 61.
She was more than a grandmother to you, the lawyer said, she was a second mother? Yes, Billy said. Why did you have a large crucifix tattooed on your back with the legend, "In Memory of Maggie?"the lawyer asked. "To memorialize that tragic event?"
"No," Billy said, he wasn't memorializing his grandmother's death, he wanted to "memorialize my grandmother."
On redirect, Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti had a simple solution for all the inconsistencies the defense had found in Billy's story. Like a mantra, Cipolletti kept asking questions that involved pointing out how old Billy was when all of this happened to him.
Billy was ten years old in fifth grade when the two priests allegedly raped him; he was 11 years old in sixth grade when Shero allegedly raped him.
Ten and Eleven. Like a judge holding up an Olympic scorecard, Cipolletti kept using Billy's testimony to emphasize those numbers, ten and eleven.
Cipolletti also addressed the issue of Billy's weight, first raised by Rose. Billy had claimed he lost weight after he was raped; but Rose said Billy's medical records showed that he had gained weight.
Between 10 and 14, Billy said, in response to questions from Cipolletti, his weight jumped from 63 to 75 pounds, but he was also going through puberty. That seemed to put that issue to bed.
Why didn't you tell anybody you were raped, Cipolletti asked.
"I was scared, I thought I was gonna be made fun of," Billy said. "I didn't think anybody would believe me ... I was alone."
Billy blamed himself for the attacks, he testified; he also wondered if he was gay.