Two moms who volunteered as school lunch room aides told a jury today that they thought former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero was creepy.
|Bernard Shero leaving the courthouse|
While working in the lunchroom, Sosalksi said, she noticed Shero "had a tendency to want to put his hand on their backs," meaning elementary school kids. Then, when her son was in sixth grade, he was out skateboarding with some friends, Sosalski testified. He came home and said that Shero, who lived in their Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood, had invited the boy and his friends into his house.
Sosalski said she walked over to confront Shero. "He was out on his lawn," she told the jury. She said she told Shero, "I'm Roman's mother; stay away from my kid."
Defense lawyers asked Sosalski when she decided to come forward to testify against Shero about events that happened back in the late 1990s. This week, she said, when a detective knocked on her door.
Apparently the district attorney's office never stops working a case.
0n cross-examination, Burton A. Rose, the lawyer representing Shero, asked Sosalski if she knew why Shero moved out of her neighborhood. She didn't. Shero told her that boys from St. Jerome's, where Shero taught after working at Nazareth, had been accused of throwing rocks at Shero's house.
Would that surprise you, Rose asked.
"Not at all," Sosalksi said with a smile.
"He was really inappropriate with those kids," Sosalksi subsequently explained to Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti.
When defense attorney Rose asked Sosalksi if she approved of what the kids were accused of, throwing rocks at Shero's house, Sosalksi said, "It's one way to get rid of somebody you're afraid of."
The next witness was Roman Sosalski, who testified that one Halloween night, Shero also invited the boy and a couple of trick-or-treating friends to come inside his house. Sosalski said he and his friends declined the invitation.
Rose asked when the detectives from the district attorney's office knocked on Roman's door.
Two days ago, he said.
Next up was Patricia Walton, who used to be a lunch room volunteer at St. Michael's in Levittown, where Shero taught after he left St. Jerome's. It was at St. Jerome's where Shero is accused of raping a former altar boy, then 11, after he gave the boy a ride home from school during the 1999-2000 school year.
Walton said that she witnessed Shero allowing "young ladies to touch his belt buckle and his tie." She also once observed Shero sitting "knees to knees" with a fourth grade student. The teacher and student were alone in a classroom on a Friday afternoon.
Walton testified she went into the classroom to make sure that Shero knew she saw him. "Have a nice weekend," she said. When the girl turned around, "the young lady was in tears," Walton said, before she began crying.
Walton told the jury she also witnessed Shero taking photos of young girls in the recess yard. When asked about the boys she said, "It was pretty evident he didn't like them."
Shero used to yell at boys a lot, she said, and one time Shero disciplined her son by making him stand against a wall out on the playground.
Walton said she took her complaints about Shero's behavior to the school principal. "He was reprimanded," she said, and told not to be alone again with a student in the classroom.
Walton said she attended a meeting at the school where she was allowed to confront Shero. The teacher got angry, she said, and pointed to his thick glasses, and told her, "See this. This is why I get close" to the students.
For a while, she said, Shero cooperated with the new dictates, and then went back to his old habits.
At that point, Walton told the jury, she took her complaints to the police.
Courtroom observers were left to wonder whether Walton's testimony would help or hurt Shero. He can't be convicted for being weird. He's also accused of raping a boy, and Walton said Shero didn't like boys, he was interested in girls.
Not exactly a good character witness, but you take whatever you can from a prosecution witness.
Defense lawyers and the prosecution then entered into a stipulation about the testimony of an EMT who was working on Feb. 10, 2011, the night Bernard Shero attempted to commit suicide. Cipolletti stood up and read a statement for the jury's benefit that said the EMT was summoned to Shero's home for a possible drug overdose.
When she got there, the EMT learned that police had broken into the house, found Shero and placed him under arrest. Shero was wearing handcuffs when the EMT got there, and he told her in a slurred voice that he had taken one or two sleeping pills the night before.
The EMT searched the house but couldn't find any more sleeping pills. Police showed her a four-page suicide note that Shero wrote. Then she took him to the hospital by ambulance.
When the EMT asked Shero about the note, he replied, "It is just one of those things."
Shero's suicide note was the subject of testimony Thursday in court, when Detective Andrew Snyder told the jury about his role on Feb. 10, 2011, the night he came over to Shero's house to arrest him.
Snyder said he banged on the door several times, to no avail. Then, "I heard a thump," he said. "It sounded like a body" falling. Snyder said he called in the fire department, and they broke into the house.
Shero had overdosed on sleeping pills. Police found a four-page suicide note left in an envelope addressed to Mom and Dad.
Snyder was asked to read the note.
"Dear Mom and Dad," he began. The note said that Shero was "truly sorry," but added, "I do not have much of a choice here."
Shero thanked his parents for taking good care of him, and for always putting up with his "vision problem." He talked about what it was like to know he was facing arrest for allegedly raping a child.
"I have now become the burden that I never intended to me," he told his parents. He said he had been involved for some time in trying to fight the accusation, but that "there is no way I can" continue to fight. He talked how he would be "dragged through the mud" and how sorry he was that his parents would have to "live with the ridicule and the shame."
While Detective Snyder read the note, Shero, sitting at the defense table, took off his thick glasses and dabbed his eyes with a tissue.
In the note, Shero asked that if his parents could continue to support Jocelyn, a foster child through Children's International.
Shero expressed sorrow for what he was about to do, and then he told his parents there is "no way I can put you through the grief and anguish this will cause."
He concluded the note by saying "my hope" is that he would be able to "watch over" his parents in heaven, and that some day he would be able "to see you there."
Snyder was also the detective assigned to investigate Billy Doe's story after police received a letter on Jan. 30, 2009, from an archdiocese lawyer, detailing the accusations Billy had made when he called an archdiocese hot line for sex abuse.
Snyder told the jury how he drove up to Graterford Prison on Jan. 20, 2010, took Billy out of jail, and over to the district attorney's office. During an interview that lasted several hours, Billy asked his parents, who were present during the interview, to step outside "whenever he was gonna tell me something graphic,"Snyder said.
"He was visibly upset, he was crying," Snyder told the jury.
On cross-examination, defense lawyers pointed out inconsistencies in Billy's story. Billy told the jury he had one sexual encounter in the sacristy with Father Engelhardt after Mass, but he told Detective Snyder and a grand jury that he had two sexual encounters with the priest.
Billy told the detective that he and the priest had engaged in masturbation, but Billy told the grand jury that he engaged in oral sex with the priest. Billy told counselors for the archdiocese that Father Engelhardt had locked the doors of the sacristy and pounded Billy for five consecutive hours of anal sex.
Defense lawyers quizzed Detective Snyder about Billy's last drug arrest in November 2009, when he was found with more than 50 bags of heroin. The case has been continued for a year and a half.
Defense lawyers asked Detective Snyder why he made some calls on Billy's behalf in an attempt to find him a new drug rehab, after he'd been kicked out of the last one.
"He's a victim of a crime," the detective told the jury. "I would help anybody."
At the conclusion of today's courtroom session, which ended before lunch, Judge Ellen Ceisler told the jury that by law the guilty plea entered into by former priest Edward V. Avery "cannot be taken as substantive evidence" against the two defendants on trial. Shero and Father Charles Engelhardt are both accused of raping a former altar boy identified in a 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report as Billy Doe.
Ceisler also told the jury that it was proper for Assistant District Attorney Cipolletti to question Avery on a wide variety of topics after he came to court Thursday and became a hostile witness. Whether Avery was a credible witness, and whether Cipolletti was able to successfully impeach Avery's credibility are matters for the jury to decide.
"That's up to you," the judge said.
During a courtroom break, the judge advised lawyers on both sides to be prepared to make closing statements next Friday.
The prosecution is expected to introduce its last two witnesses on Tuesday, when the trial resumes after the Martin Luther King holiday. The prosecution is expected to call as witnesses the woman who was the principal of St. Michael's when Patricia Walton complained about Shero's behavior.
The last prosecution witness is a doctor who examined Billy Doe back when he was a sixth-grader, but could not determine the source of what Billy told the jury was "testicular pain."
The defense is expected to put on its case over four days next week. The judge told defense lawyers if they have to have their witnesses waiting outside the courtroom for two days, so be it.
"Your Honor, I can't close down St. Jerome's for two days," replied Michael J. McGovern, who represents Father Engelhardt.
When Billy Doe testified earlier this week, McGovern read a long list of teachers, and asked if Billy recognized the names. These former teachers are expected to be quizzed about whether they noticed any dramatic change in Billy's personality, as has been alleged by Billy and prosecutors.
McGovern told the judge that he has served a subpoena on Billy's older brother. The brother, now a lawyer, went to St. Jerome's, and served as an altar boy, without incident. He also went on to Archbishop Ryan, the school that Billy was kicked out of.
There's a gag order in the case that prevents lawyers on both sides from talking to reporters. But it looks like the defense plans to use Billy's older brother in an attempt to impeach Billy's testimony.
The courtroom buzz is that both defendants are expected to testify on their own behalf.
Assistant District Attorney Cipolletti was overheard to say he was thrilled about the opportunity to cross-examine both defendants.