|AP Photo/Matt Rourke|
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright today swore in a panel of 12 jurors and 4 alternates. Then, the judge gave the jury a cold case to solve, namely whether a Catholic priest had sexually assaulted a former altar boy about 17 years ago.
The cold case comes with a media spotlight. "This is what's called a publicity or media case," Judge Bright warned the just-picked panel of 12 women and 4 men.
The judge informed the jury that it was one of the most "important and solemn duties of citizenship" for them to sit as jurors who will decide the fate of Father Andrew McCormick. The 57-year-old priest is accused of sexually assaulting a former 10-year-old altar boy during the 1997-98 school year at St. John Cantius Church in Northeast Philadelphia.
McCormick was arrested on July 26, 2012, after the victim in the case came forward about 14 years after the alleged crime. The victim told the district attorney's office he was motivated by the trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn. Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was convicted on June 22, 2012 of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, another former 10-year-old altar boy known as "Billy Doe."
Lynn, whose conviction was overturned last Dec. 26th by an appellate court, was mentioned in court as a potential witness in the trial of Father McCormick. But whether Lynn shows up in the courtroom may be another story. To date, he has not been served with a subpoena.
Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp told the judge her leadoff witnesses tomorrow would be the officers who investigated the alleged crime scene 17 years after the fact.
Kemp said the victim in the case would testify, along with his father, mother and grandmother. Presumably, the victim told his story to his relatives, and they're going to share those accounts with the jury. I say presumably because under the rules of the court, reporters can't ask the lawyers in the case any questions.
Judge Bright is presiding over a "publicity or media case" involving a Catholic priest accused of sex abuse. So she followed recent Philadelphia judicial policy by slapping a gag order on the lawyers in the case, so they can't talk to the press.
The judge told jurors the trial is expected to last 7 to 10 days.
Father McCormick, wearing his Roman collar and a black suit, had nothing to say publicly as he sat at the defense table with his lawyers, William J. Brennan and Richard J. Fuschino Jr.
It was the Brennan and Fuschino team that got a mistrial in the 2012 case of one of Msgr. Lynn's co-defendants. Father James J. Brennan was accused of attempting to rape a former 14-year-old boy, but the jury hung 11-1 in favor of acquittal. This time around, however, it's going to be a much tougher case.
The alleged victim in the Father Brennan case, Mark Bukowski, had a history of drug abuse and arrests. The alleged victim in the Father McCormick case supposedly doesn't carry that kind of baggage that would make him easy prey on cross-examination.
There were few spectators in the court today, except for a lone parishioner who said he was there to support Father McCormick. The priest has been on administrative leave from his position as pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Bridgeport, Montgomery County.
Reporters showed up from The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and the Associated Press.
The hallways outside Judge Bright's courtroom on the 11th floor of the Criminal Justice Center were filled with three panels of about 150 potential jurors. But Courtroom 1102 was so small that spectators and reporters were evicted when the jury panels were brought in to answer questions from the judge.
Lawyers in the case spent a day and a half picking a jury. Potential jurors were asked questions such as whether they could be open minded about a defendant who was a Roman Catholic priest. Whether they would give more weight, or less weight, to the testimony of police officers. And whether they would hold it against Father McCormick if he didn't take the witness stand in his own defense.
One woman candidly admitted it would be a problem for her if a defendant didn't take the stand.
"I would think they have something to hide," said the woman, who was not picked as a juror.
While the hallways outside Judge Bright's courtroom were crowded with potential jurors, the elevators at the Criminal Justice Center were packed, as usual, like cattle cars. Claustrophobic spectators intent on reaching Courtroom 1102 were left to climb 11 flights of stairs through cigarette strewn hallways with big no smoking signs.