By Ralph Cipriano
Prospective Juror No. 17 in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case wrote on his questionnaire that he had grave doubts about whether men could abstain from sex.
"Men, no sex? I don't believe it," he wrote. When Judge Ellen Ceisler asked Prospective Juror No. 17 what he meant by that, he said, "When I found out about sex it was the last thing I'd give up."
That prompted a smile from the judge before she dismissed Juror No. 17 for cause.
Prospective Juror No. 21 wrote on his questionnaire that he was taking medication for schizophrenia.
Is there any chance, the judge wanted to know, that you could have a relapse?
"A whole lot of stress" like a trial, yeah, sure, that could bring it back, he said.
Prospective Juror No. 21 was struck for cause.
It was a slow day in Courtroom 304 at the Criminal Justice Center where the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers questioned a pool of 129 prospective jurors before picking four. They have to choose a total of 12 jurors and six alternates by Friday.
The trial of Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic teacher Bernard Shero is scheduled to begin next Monday, Jan. 14th. Both Engelhardt and Shero are accused of sexually abusing a former 10-year-old altar boy identified in civil court records as Billy Doe.
The crimes against Billy, a fifth-grader at the time, are already responsible for putting two Catholic priests behind bars.
Former Father Edward V. Avery pleaded guilty on March 22, 2011 to involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a minor, namely Billy, and was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 5 years in prison.
Msgr. William J. Lynn was convicted on June 22 of endangering the welfare of a child for failing to protect Billy Doe from Avery. Lynn, the first Catholic administrator in the country to be convicted in connection with the clergy sex abuse scandal, was sentenced to three to six years in prison.
Engelhardt and Shero originally were supposed to go on trial last year, with Lynn, Avery and Father James J. Brennan, but Judge M. Teresa Sarmina dropped Engelhardt and Shero from the case because neither was under Lynn's supervision.
On Monday, Engelhardt, 65, still a priest for the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales, sat beside his lawyer, Michael J. McGovern and watched as prospective jurors went through their auditions. Shero, 49, was represented by his lawyer, Burton A. Rose.
The questioning began with Prospective Juror No. 1, a white, middle-aged legal secretary on her second marriage. The woman who recently lost her job -- "they were downsizing" -- was quickly approved as Juror No. 1.
She was joined by Prospective Juror No. 2, a white-haired black woman who promised the judge that she wouldn't look at her husband's newspaper, not even the headlines. Juror No. 2 told the judge she wasn't a Catholic but that she had a daughter who went to Cardinal Dougherty High School.
She was also approved even though she told the judge she had another daughter who was convicted two years ago of a crime and sentenced to 18 months in a federal prison. "She was involved in a swindle," Juror No. 2 said. Her daughter who worked at a bank had given out information to "someone on the street,"the juror said.
Another prospective juror told the judge he was no longer a practicing Catholic. The mother of his girlfriend was also a former nun. He was also struck from the panel.
Prospective Juror No. 12 was a white-haired Catholic woman who had met one of the previously convicted priests. "I do know Ed Avery," she said. "He was the priest at St. Dominic's." In spite of that, she became Juror No. 3.
Prospective Juror No. 18, a bald white guy, had been a juror eight times, including a double murder trial last year. "Thank you for your service," the judge told him.
But Prospective Juror No. 18 had a wife who was a social worker who worked with victims of sex abuse. That was a problem. Then Juror No. 18 said his son, at six years old, had been a victim of sex abuse. The perpetrator was a 14-year-old cousin.
When asked if he could be impartial in a sex abuse case, Prospective Juror No. 18 paused and said, "Probably not."
Prospective Juror No. 40 was a black male who worked for the Philadelphia Gas Works. "I don't know how it works at my job," he said, when the judge wanted to know if his employer would pay him for serving as a juror.
When asked on a questionnaire whether he or anyone close to him had been the victim of a crime, the prospective juror checked that box. When the judge asked him to elaborate, he said, "My 17-year-old nephew was murdered last Jan. 23."
Prospective Juror No. 40 admitted that he was a "heavy" Facebook user who was online several times every day.
The judge reminded the prospective juror that she had issued "stern instructions" that all jurors should refrain from using social media.
"Can you honor that?"the judge asked.
"Yes," the prospective juror said.
Prospective Juror No. 40's next problem was that he had wrote on his questionnaire that he would be more inclined to believe a childhood victim of sex abuse.
But under questioning from the judge, No. 40 said he had gotten confused by the question, and that he could be impartial toward all witnesses.
"I don't believe he has a bias, I just think he was confused," the judge said told prosecutors, who seemed concerned.
During a break, Prospective Juror No. 40 called PGW to see how they would handle him going on jury duty. They said no problem.
"Juror No. 40 will be Juror No. 4," the judge said.
They'll be back at it again tomorrow, starting at 9 a.m., with a stack of questionnaires from Monday, plus a whole new pool of jurors who were called for Tuesday.