Around 1:30 p.m. today, the jury in the Father Andrew McCormick sex abuse case sent a note to the judge saying they were hopelessly deadlocked.
Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright told the jury to give it one more try, but it was to no avail. Shortly after 4 p.m., the judge declared a mistrial and dismissed the jury after four and a half days of fruitless deliberations.
The day began with the court stenographer reading back more than an hour of testimony from the alleged victim. Meanwhile, the alleged victim sat in the second row of the courtroom, listening to his own description of the alleged attack by "Father Andy." Soon, the alleged victim and his mother were sobbing and bowing their heads, while almost using up a box of tissues.
No juror, however, was seen glancing their way. The judge followed the reading of the testimony by re-reading her instructions to the jury on how to deal with the alleged victim's testimony. If you find his testimony credible, the judge had instructed the jury, the alleged victim's testimony alone was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant.
Apparently, at least one juror didn't believe the victim. The jury told the judge they did not want to talk to the lawyers, and they left without speaking to reporters. Judge Bright asked Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp if the district attorney's office wanted to retry the case.
"Yes, Your Honor," Kemp said. The judge promptly scheduled a court date of April 28, to set a date for a new trial.
When he shows up in court for his new trial, however, Father Andy will need a new lawyer. Defense attorney William J. Brennan told the judge he wanted to be relieved of his duties. In effect, Brennan announced he was firing his client. At the defense table, the priest and co-counsel Richard J. Fuschino both looked startled by Brennan's announcement.
"I'm done," Brennan twice told the judge, without offering any explanation as to why.
It was a bizarre and anticlimactic finish to a hard-fought four-day trial.
Judge Bright put the official damper on the proceedings by announcing her gag order on all participants in the trial, including lawyers, witnesses and jurors, would remain in effect.
That meant that reporters couldn't talk to Father Andy to find how he felt about dodging the slammer. Reporters couldn't talk to the alleged victim and his family to find out what effect their gut-wrenching ordeal had had on them. They couldn't talk to Bill Brennan and find out why he fired his client.
A relative of the alleged victim and another supporter were overheard saying the jury was split 11-1 in favor of a conviction. But since we have a gag order up, it was impossible to verify if this was true.
"The jury is deadlocked," the note from the jury foreman read. "All conversation has ceased."
After the judge sent the jury of nine women and three men in for one last try, the jury foreman wrote another note to the judge that said, "Nothing has changed since your last charge. We are still deadlocked. Our discussions have ceased."
While the jury deliberated, the judge was asked to re-read the charges against Father Andy, while nuns visiting the courtroom held a prayer vigil.
In one sense, the jury couldn't be blamed for not being able to make up their minds after hearing four days of testimony. Both sides in the case did a great job.
The accused victim told a straight-forward story with few contradictions. He was backed up by heartbreaking testimony from his mother, father and grandfather, a retired detective who took the first victim's statement in the case.
The prosecutor gave a great closing argument.
The defense did their creative best to dredge up some reasonable doubt. While the alleged victim claimed the priest wore "blue plaid boxers" when he was allegedly attacked back in 1997, the defense produced two witnesses to say the priest wore only "tighty-whities."
The defense caught the prosecution in one flub, when the assistant district attorney claimed that Father Andy had dressed up in civvies and snuck some altar boys in to see an R-rated movie. Brennan brought a DVD of the movie to court and proved it was rated PG-13.
The defense took a gamble by putting the 57-year-old priest up on the stand; some courtroom observers thought it backfired. Father Andy looked like a not-ready-for-prime-time player. He was awkward, he stammered a lot and he turned bright red. But maybe somebody on the jury gave Father Andy credit for not hiding behind the fifth amendment.
The jury in the case had a tough job.
The alleged victim was on the witness stand for about an hour and 15 minutes. His alleged attacker was on the witness stand for 15 minutes.
With only 90 minutes of testimony to go on, the jury was asked to try and figure out what happened between the priest and the altar boy 17 years ago.
The alleged victim's story was that when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in 1997, Father Andy lured him up to his room in the rectory, shoved him down on the bed and attacked him, twice trying to jam his penis into the boy's mouth.
The alleged victim, now 26, waited 15 years before coming forward to say what happened, and to identify his attacker as Father Andy.
The alleged victim came forward after he saw the priest on TV, and after he had a dream that the priest was attacking his five-year-old nephew. At the time, the alleged victim was abusing drugs and alcohol. To what extent we don't know.
The priest said the alleged attack never happened.
There was no testimony from any corroborating witness; nor was there any testimony from any second victim of Father Andy. The priest who had served for 32 years had access to literally hundreds of altar boys, his defense lawyer calculated.
Brennan's best moment in his closing may have been when he stood beside his client and asked the jury, "If this guy's a pervert, is that something you only do once?"
At least one person on the jury must have had a reasonable doubt about that.
In a few months perhaps, we'll get a chance to do it all over again, but Billy Brennan's decided to skip that party. It's a shame he can't tell us why.
Nevertheless, Brennan left the courtroom with an enviable record in these priest abuse cases. Most of these cases end up with the padre in question being hauled off in irons after a conviction.
But twice now, Brennan had wrangled a couple of hung juries for two priests accused of sexually assaulting minors. In 2012, when a jury was convicting Msgr. William J. Lynn of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, that same jury hung 11-1 in favor of acquittal on whether Brennan's client, Father James J. Brennan [no relation], had attempted to rape a 14-year-old boy.
In that case, Father Brennan admitted he let the boy watch porno, then got into bed with him, and sometime during the night, he accidentally spooned the alleged victim. But Father Brennan is a free man.
And so is Father Andy, at least for another month, thanks to Bill Brennan and his faithful sidekick, Richard J. Fuschino.
In the wake of the hung jury, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement today saying that Father McCormick remains on administrative leave.
"He has not and may not administer the sacraments publicly or present himself as a priest in good standing," read the statement from Kenneth A. Gavin, director of communications. "The archdiocese was not involved in Father McCormick's legal defense and did not underwrite its costs."
Ralph Cipriano can be reached at email@example.com.