|The Happy DA|
Even the district attorney was surprised.
"I'm overjoyed; I did not expect it," District Attorney Seth Williams told reporters today after a jury convicted Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic lay teacher Bernard Shero on nine of ten counts in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case.
Given the way "the victim in this case" was "vilified" and subjected to lengthy cross-examination, Williams said, he would have understood if the jury had reached another conclusion, say an acquittal or a hung jury, and not the verdict that had the district attorney beaming.
Williams talked about the suffering of the victim, "Billy Doe," the former 10-year-old altar boy who was "passed from priest to priest to teacher" for alleged sex sessions in a church sacristy, a supply closet, and the back seat of Shero's car. Engelhardt faces a maximum sentence of 37 years in prison, Shero, a maximum of 57 years, when both men are sentenced on April 18.
As far as the DA was concerned, however, the judge can't give the two defendants enough time. The district attorney at today's press conference also castigated the archdiocese for its official response to the triple rape of Billy Doe. "They protect them," Williams said of the convicted rapists, "and then they "cover up. It's disgusting."
At 2:38 p.m. today in Courtroom 901, the jury foreman told Judge Ellen Ceisler that after three days of deliberations, the jury had reached a partial verdict. The panel of eight men and four women had come back with unanimous decisions on nine counts, but the jury was deadlocked on a tenth count.
The judge, noting the expense of another trial to the Commonwealth, asked the jury to go back and take another crack at trying to reach a verdict on that last count. By 3:30 p.m., the jury returned, saying they were still hopelessly deadlocked on the last count.
The jury foreman stood to read the verdict on nine other counts. Juror No. 3 was a white-haired Catholic woman who had told the judge during jury selection that she had gone to St. Jerome's in Northeast Philadelphia, the scene of the alleged crimes, and that she even knew one of Billy's alleged rapists.
"I do know Ed Avery, he was the priest at St. Dominic's," Juror No. 3 told the judge during jury selection. Despite that statement, both the prosecution and the defense approved of Juror No.3. Maybe the "smiling padre," as Ed Avery was formerly known, did not make a good impression on her.
The court crier asked Bernard Shero, the 49-year-old former Catholic school teacher from St. Jerome's to stand.
The jury foreman then read the verdict: guilty on rape of a child, guilty on involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, guilty on endangering the welfare of a child, guilty on corruption of a minor, and guilty on indecent assault.
Next it was the 66-year-old Engelhardt's turn. The jury foreman announced that the jury had reached no verdict on a count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child. But the jury's verdict on the other four counts was guilty on endangering the welfare of a child, guilty on corruption of a minor, guilty on indecent assault on a person less than 13 years old, and guilty on conspiring with Father Ed Avery to commit sexual assault on Billy Doe.
Neither Shero nor Engelhardt showed any emotion to the reading of the verdicts. Their families, however, were devastated. Shero's mother, who had testified about Bernard's 23 eye surgeries as a child, and his sister, a Bucks County EMT who worked nights, but attended every day of the three-week trial, were both crying. Engelhardt's sister and niece sobbed; Engelhardt's fellow oblates from the order of Francis DeSales, just sat there looking stunned.
Billy Doe was not in the courtroom, but his parents were. They left, however, without saying anything to reporters.
The judge revoked bail, and both defendants were placed under arrest. The judge announced that she would have both men kept in protective custody until sentencing.
|The post-verdict scene outside CJC|
The lawyers who visited the courtroom during the trial had left predicting either outright acquittals, or at best, a hung jury. Nobody, not even Billy's partisans, expected a conviction. Even the former victims of sex abuse who visited the courtroom to show support for Billy Doe thought the two defendants would beat the rap.
The case was plagued with problems that began with the lone accuser. Billy Doe, as he was dubbed in the 2011 grand jury report, was a 24-year-old former daily marijuana smoker, magic mushroom eater, LSD tripper and heroin addict. He'd been in and out jail, and in and out of 23 different drug rehabs; among his recent arrests was a bust for possessing 56 bags of heroin.
Billy Doe told wildly differing accounts of the alleged attacks on him.
He told a social worker from the archdiocese that Engelhardt had attacked him after a 6:30 a.m. Mass when he was a 10-year-old fifth-grader at St. Jerome's during the 1998-99 school year. Billy said the priest locked four doors of the sacristy at St. Jerome, took off all his clothes and forced the boy to have oral sex. Then, Billy told the social worker, the priest flipped the boy over and pounded away at him with brutal anal sex from 7 a.m. until noon.
It was the only time he had sex with Engelhardt, Billy told the social worker. But Billy Doe told a detective from the district attorney's office that he had two sex sessions with Engelhardt, both involving masturbation. Billy told the jury in this case that he had one sex encounter with Engelhardt, involving oral sex.
Maybe that's why the jury deadlocked on the one count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a minor; they couldn't agree on which version of Billy's story to go with.
During jury deliberations, the jury had asked the judge for Billy's direct testimony, but she said no, and that they should rely on their collective recollections.
Maybe the only thing the jury remembered was Billy's fifth grade picture, when he was a smiling 10-year-old in his parochial school uniform. That picture was displayed on courtroom TVs during the prosecutor's entire 82-minute closing statement.
There were plenty of other inconsistencies in Billy's stories.
Billy told an archdiocese social worker that Father Avery had "punched him in the head," and when he woke up, Billy was naked and tied up in altar sashes. Then, Avery anally raped Billy so brutally that he "bled for a week," Billy told the social worker.
The prosecution had another problem when they brought Edward Avery to court in a prison suit, and the defrocked priest shocked Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti by telling the jury he had never touched Billy.
Avery told the jury he had pleaded guilty because he was facing 20 years in prison, and the prosecutors offered him 2 1/2 to five years. At the hearing last year when he pleaded guilty, Avery testified, nobody had ever bothered to ask if he did it.
Billy Doe told the archdiocese social worker that Bernard Shero had punched him in the face, and wrapped a seat belt around his neck before raping him in the back seat of a car. At the time, Billy was an 11-year-old sixth grader during the 1999-2000 school year.
Billy told the archdiocese social worker he had been raped in the classroom. Then he changed his story to say that the rape had taken place in the back of Shero's car while it was parked near a dumpster. Billy told this jury that the rape by Shero took place in Pennypack Park. But when Billy testified before this jury, the punch in the face and the seat belt wrapped around his neck were details dropped from the story.
There was no physical evidence in the case, and no corroborating witnesses. Just Billy and his stories about how he had been brutally raped by three men in two years, while his mother, a nurse, and his father, a Philadelphia police officer, and his doctor, who testified in the case, never noticed a thing. Not even a pair of bloody underwear. Are you kidding me?
McGovern, however, seemed to be a different story.
"There will not be a night that goes by, for many nights, that I don't ponder how I let him down," McGovern told reporters before he left the Criminal Justice Center.
Burton A. Rose said his client, Bernard Shero, was "very upset, very distraught." Rose talked in disbelief about all the inconsistencies in the case, and how a "soft, mild-mannered man" was upstairs in handcuffs, and on his way to jail.
Rose said that Shero would definitely file an appeal because his client didn't get a fair trial.
Brennan's case seems pretty amazing when viewed in the light of what's happened to the other four defendants in the Philadelphia priest abuse trials.
Avery is doing 2 1/2 to 5 years; Msgr. William J. Lynn, 3 to 6 years.
Engelhardt and Shero face a combined total of 94 years in jail.
All four men continue to maintain their innocence; even Avery, who copped a plea.
And then there's Father James J. Brennan, the only defendant to admit to criminal conduct, namely showing porn to a 14-year-old boy, and then getting in bed with him.
And he's the only defendant out walking the streets.
Somewhere tonight, Father Brennan's lawyer, William J. Brennan [no relation], is sitting in a Center City bar, smiling and ordering another "Father Brennan," his nickname for one of his favorite drinks, a scotch and soda.