On Feb. 9, 2011, Bernard Shero sat down to type a suicide note to his parents.
"Dear Mom and Dad," he began. "I know the Easter season has become a very sad season for us. We have lost many loved ones during the year. I am truly sorry for making the time of your birthday a time of loss as well but I feel that I do not have much of a choice here, and I think deep in your hearts, you know why."
On Feb. 9, 2011, Bernard Shero was a 47-year-old ex-Catholic school teacher accused of raping a former sixth-grade student named Billy Doe.
The day he wrote his two-page note to his parents, Shero was a hunted man. Detectives from the district attorney's office had called Burton Rose, Shero's lawyer, to ask if Shero was going to turn himself in. The detectives wanted Shero to report to the D.A.'s office at 6 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2011. Or else, the detectives would be driving out to Shero's apartment armed with an arrest warrant.
Bernie Shero told his lawyer he couldn't be at the D.A.'s office by 6 a.m. And when Rose called him back, he couldn't get Shero on the phone.
On Feb. 10, 2011, the day after he wrote his suicide note, Shero took some sleeping pills and went to bed.
He did not foresee detectives banging on his door, or a groggy ride to the hospital in an ambulance.
He also made the mistake of not showing that suicide note to his lawyer.
Was Bernard Shero's suicide note an admission of guilt?
The jury certainly thought so.
We're going to take a look at that note, so everybody can make up their own minds. But before we get to that let's review what Shero was accused of. Billy Doe claimed that during the 1999-2000 school year, when he was an 11-year-old sixth grader at St. Jerome's Church in Northeast Philadelphia, Bernard Shero raped him.
On Jan. 30, 2009, Billy Doe told his story to Louise Hagner, a social worker from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Billy Doe would subsequently tell a grand jury on March 19, 2010 that he was high on heroin the day he talked to Louise Hagner, so he couldn't remember a thing he told her.
In a Jan. 21, 2011 grand jury report, the district attorney took Billy Doe's side, and was highly critical of Hagner.
The D.A. accused the social worker of an conducting an "unprofessional, forced interview with a distraught" Billy Doe. It was an interview, the district attorney wrote, that "defense attorneys will undoubtedly find useful in trying to cast doubt on Billy's story."
The district attorney charged that Hagner's actions were part of an ongoing archdiocese strategy of "moving quickly to solicit highly detailed statements from victims."
Nowhere in that grand jury report, however, does the district attorney accuse Louise Hagner of fabricating any details.
WHAT BILLY DOE TOLD THE ARCHDIOCESE
On April 8, 2010, Louise Hagner testified before a grand jury. She said that when she first spoke to Billy Doe, on the phone on Jan. 29, 2009, Billy Doe said the rape "happened after class in the classroom on one occasion."
But the next day, on Jan. 30, 2009, when Hagner went out to interview Billy Doe, he told her a different story. This time, Billy Doe said, the rape by Shero occurred at 3:15 p.m. in a parking lot outside an apartment building and a dumpster near Shero's home:
Mr. Shero was his sixth grade teacher. He said the students thought there was something wrong with him and he was constantly touching everyone, both boys and girls. When asked if the kids had a nickname for Mr. Shero, Mr. Doe said they called him pedophile.
One day in class Mr. Doe made a smart comment and Mr. Shero told him to stay after class. Mr. Shero talked to him after class and then offered to drive him home. Mr. Doe told him no because he only lived a block away; however, Mr. Shero forced him to go into his car. Instead of driving him home, he [Shero] pulled behind an apartment building near his home. It was 3:15 in the afternoon but no one saw them because he parked by a dumpster.
Mr. Shero punched him [Billy] in the face and tried to pull his pants off. He grabbed the seatbelt and wrapped it around his neck. Mr. Shero performed oral sex on him and then Mr. Shero made Mr. [Doe] masturbate him. He also licked him all over.
[Mr. Doe] also said that Mr. Shero tore his shirt and ripped it off. Mr. Shero told him if you ever tell anyone, no one will believe you. I will make your life a living hell. [Mr. Doe] said after the incident he arrived home before his parents and threw the torn shirt in the sewer so that his parents would not see it.
He [Billy] said that after this incident he was out of school for a while due to illness. When he returned to school, Mr. Shero said to him you liked it, didn't you?
WHAT BILLY DOE TOLD THE POLICE
On Jan. 28, 2010, Detective Drew Snyder interviewed Billy Doe, with his parents present. Here's what Snyder wrote in his notes:
[Billy Doe] is in the sixth grade and Bernard Shero is his homeroom teacher and English teacher. [Billy Doe] states that Shero is a weird touch/feely guy. Shero put his arms around the students when he is talking to them and whispers in their ears. He rubs their backs and is just creepy to be around. [Billy Doe] says there are multiple complaints about Shero .. [Billy Doe] further states that Shero had him doing odd erands.
[Billy Doe] is in "Morning Detention" for not doing his homework. [School starts around 7:30 a.m.] Shero is the teacher in charge of detention. Shero approaches [Billy Doe] at detention, starts rubbing [Billy Doe]'s back and whispers in his ear, "I have my eye on you, you're a very good looking young man and it is time for you to become a man. He tells [Billy] that "We'll discuss this later."
About a week later while at lunch, Shero tells [Billy] to come up to the classroom. When [Billy] arrives in the classroom, Shero says, "Remember our conversation? It is time to become a man." Shero starts taling about sex, asking [Billy] if he knows about sex. Shero says that he'll be giving [Billy] sex education soon.
A couple of days later at the end of the school day, Shero approaches [Billy] and tells him that he is going to give [Billy] a ride home. [Billy] protests but Shero is insistent. [Billy] gets into Shero's car. Shero drives [Billy] away from [Billy]'s house towards Father Judge High School. Father Judge is letting out so Shero drives to Rhawn and Holmhurst Sts. and pulls into the parking lot that sits below street level. (Shero has an older model Ford Taurus). Shero tells [Billy] "It's time for your sex education."
Shero undoes his pants and tells [Billy] to undo his pants. Shero tells [Billy] to get into the back seat. Shero masturbates [Billy] 'til [Billy] is erect, and then tells [Billy] to spread Shero's buttocks cheeks. Shero guides [Billy] through the process of anal sex. After this act, Shero has [Billy] lay on his back and Shero sucks [Billy]'s testicles. Shero then wipes [Billy]'s penis and begins sucking [Billy]'s penis. Shero has [Billy] in a '69' position and tells [Billy] to suck his penis. When they are through, Shero's demeanor changes. He throws [Billy]'s clothes at him and tells him "you were very good." Shero tells [Billy] to walk home from the parking lot. (The encounter was about an hour long). [Billy] walks home and takes a shower.
After a couple of weeks, [Billy] gets real sick and missed a lot of school. When [Billy] returns to school, Shero treats [Billy] the same way.
In his notes, Detective Snyder wrote down one additional detail that Billy told him about the attack -- "Shero ejaculates in [Billy's] mouth."
WHAT BILLY DOE TOLD THE GRAND JURY
Q. Did anything happen in your sixth grade year?
Q. What time period or what part of the school year where you in when something happened?
A. It was towards the end. Like, probably Spring.
Q. Can you tell us what happened at that time?
A. Mr. Shero was kind of a creep. He would always be touching students when he would come up and talk to you. He would put his arm around you and kind of whisper in your ear. He was inappropriate when he would talk to the students. He was talking to me for like a while, and he was getting kind of intimate ... Asked me about stuff that I did outside of school, like if I had a girlfriend, all that kind of stuff ...
Q. Ok. What happened after that?
A. One day after school, he said he was going to give me a ride home ... Instead of giving me a ride home -- not too far from my house, there's a park. I used to live up the street from Pennypack, and there's an entrance that's a couple parking lots where you park your car, but it has three levels to it. We always called it Little City, and that's where he took me.
Q. Ok. Did you say anything to him about not taking you straight home?
Q. What did you say?
A. I asked him why we were stopping here.
Q. What did he say to you?
A. We're going to have some fun ... He told me get in the back seat .. He had me take off all my clothes but he was very pushy ...
Q. What happened after that?
A. He ripped off his clothes and he started to play with my genitals with his hands ... He started to give me oral sex and then he tried to put his penis up my ass ... He got it in a little bit and I started screaming in pain.
Q. Ok. So what happened after that?
A. He had me give him oral sex and a hand job. .. And he had me give him anal sex ...
Q. Ok. What happened after this?
A. He told me to get dressed and walk home ...
Q. Ok. Did he say anything to you when you showed up at school?
Billy Doe told the jury a "a couple of weeks" or "a month" after Shero raped him, he got sick:
I was coughing profusely, and at the end of every cough, I would vomit violently ... I went to see my pediatrician. He didn't know what was wrong with me. He sent me to a specialist and they couldn't figure out what was wrong. I was vomiting so much I was losing a lot of weight. I couldn't eat. They had to knock me out for a couple of days. I was out of it for a while ... I missed a lot of school.
A RECAP OF BILLY'S VARIOUS STORIES
Billy gave Louise Hagner two different locations for where he was raped by Shero -- in the classroom, and in a parking lot behind an apartment building and a dumpster near Shero's home. Billy Doe said that Shero punched him in the face, wrapped a seatbelt around his neck, and ripped his shirt off. Shero performed oral sex on Billy and made Billy masturbate him. After the rape, Shero threatened to make Billy's life a living hell. Billy got sick and missed a lot of school, and when he came back, Shero told Billy, you liked it didn't you?
Billy told the police he was raped in a parking lot near Rhawn and Holmehurst during an hour-long attack. Billy said Shero forced the boy to perform anal sex on the teacher, afterwards they engaged in mutual oral sex. Billy added some new dialogue to his story, with Shero telling him, "It is time to become a man," and "It's time for your sex education." The rape ended when Shero ejaculated in Billy's mouth. When the attack was over, Billy said Shero threw the boy's clothes at him and told him he was good. After the rape, Billy got sick and missed a lot of school.
Billy told the grand jury he was raped in parking lot up the street from Pennypack Park. Shero performed oral sex on Billy and attempted to have anal sex with Billy, but Billy cried out in pain and Shero stopped. Shero then had Billy give him oral sex, a hand job, and anal sex. When it was over, Shero told Billy to get dressed and go home. A couple of weeks or a month later, Billy became violently ill and missed a lot of school.
The locations of the rape are different every time Billy Doe told the story, and so are the details of the attack, as well as the dialogue or lack of it.
This is a victim who can't get his story straight.
The one constant in the three stories was that Billy Doe told the archdiocese, the police and the grand jury that he got sick after he was raped by Shero and missed a lot of school.
Like many other details in Billy Doe's stories, the business about Billy getting sick was not backed up by any evidence. Instead, what evidence was available only served to contradict Billy Doe.
During the Engelhardt-Shero trial, Burton Rose, Shero's lawyer, held up Billy's report card from sixth grade to remind the jury that after Billy Doe claimed he was raped during the fourth quarter of the 1999-2000 school year, Billy supposedly missed a lot of time at school. But Billy Doe's report card for the fourth quarter of sixth grade showed zero absences.
"His report card tells us that [Billy] is not telling us the truth," Rose told the jury.
WHAT HAPPENED THE DAY BERNARD SHERO WAS ARRESTED
On the night of Feb. 10, 2011, Detectives Drew Snyder and "Gibby" Brook drove out to Bristol Township to arrest Bernard Shero. The detectives knocked on Shero's door and got no answer. The detectives heard a loud thump inside Shero's apartment, so they called the fire department.
The fire department showed up at 10:35 p.m. Detective Brook climbed up on the roof and entered Shero's apartment through an unlocked window. Detective Brook handcuffed Shero and led him downstairs to unlock the door. Detective Brook informed Detective Snyder that Shero had "overdosed' on two sleeping pills he took at 11 a.m. The detectives searched the apartment but could not find the sleeping pills. But they found the suicide note in a folder on a table addressed to "Mom and Dad." Detective Brook rode in an ambulance with Shero to Lower Bucks Hospital.
Detective Snyder recorded what happened next:
While in the E.R. Shero had asked me what was the worse case scenario and I explained that he could go to prison. Shero denied doing anything wrong ... I also noticed that there were several pictures of a Hispanic girl hanging in his apartment I asked Shero why he had pictures of thse girls and he responded that he sponsors three kids from Guatemala ... At 4:30 p.m., Shero was released to us and we transported him to the Philadelphia police detention unit. Shero was arraigned and released on $95,000 bail.
THE SUICIDE NOTE
Dear Mom and Dad,
I know the Easter season has become a very sad season for us. We have lost many loved ones during the year. I am truly sorry for making the time of your birthday a time of loss as well but I feel that I do not have much of a choice here, and I think deep in your hearts, you know why.
I could not have asked for two more wonderful parents. Being born with the vision problem things did not come easy for me. Most people would not have helped me the way you have. You have really been a gift to me and I can never thank you enough for all you have done.
[During the trial, Bernard Shero's mother, Bonita, testified that her son was born with congenital cataracts, and between the ages of six months and seven years old, he had 23 eye surgeries.]
Mom, you have always been that light of optimism for me. It seemed like any time I had a problem, you gave me the courage to continue and perserve. You said to me on many occasions that you did not have to worry about me. That comes for 47 years of your guidance and support. The other day you said that you are now worrying about me every day. That really saddened me that I have now become the burden I never wanted to be.
Dad, there were many times you lost your temper with me but in retrospect I know that it was for my own good. I have learned many things from you and I am so sorry that my situation has become a burden for you as well.
You both know that the DA of Philadelphia has decided to go forward with the case. There is no way I could survive another fight, it seems like that is all I have been doing with my life is fighting and I can't do it anymore. I along with our family will be dragged through the mud and in the end, whether innocent or guilty, I will have nothing and you will have to live with the ridicule and the shame. You two are strong, but not that strong and I can not let that happen. I love my supportive family too much to think about it.
I want you to have everything that I own. All of my bank accounts, IRAs, and property.
You are listed as the beneficiary on my IRAs. I have attached statements to this letter. I have about $3,000 in a savings and $700 in my checking account at TD bank. You an access it using my debit card ... In addition, there is a life insurance policy through LENOX that should be worth about $40,000 ...
I have just one request; please continue to sponsor Josselyn through Children International. I recently found out that her father abandoned her. We did celebrate the same birthday so I think this would be nice. If this is too difficult for you, I understand ...
It was very comforting to know that you were behind me in this situation, as you always were, there is no way I could put you through the grief and anguish this will cause. This is a hard decision for me, I really don't have any friends and you know that even if such an allegation gets out, you are ostracized by everyone. I can only hope you understand and forgive me. I have had a good life and was really fortunate to have done all of the things I have done.
I really love you both. It is my hope that I will be able to watch over you in heaven and that I will see you there.
Burton Rose said the district attorney offered to avoid a trial by having Bernard Shero plead guilty to a lesser charge.
"We went back and forth and we came up with numbers," Shero recalled. But in the end, Shero couldn't do it.
"I just can't take any plea bargain that would require me to admit to something I didn't do," Rose recalled his client telling him.
Burton Rose lost a pre-trial motion to exclude the suicide note. The judge thought it was "evidence of consciousness of guilt," Rose said.
About that note, Rose said, "Look, he never said he did it either."