|Best guy friends Billy and Leo|
In court nearly two years ago, Leo Omar Hernandez was the only witness who could corroborate any part of Billy Doe's wildly improbable tale about being repeatedly raped as an altar boy by a couple of priests and a school teacher.
Hernandez was supposedly the "best guy friend" that Billy Doe first confided his story of sex abuse to back when they were high school classmates at the International Christian Academy in Northeast Philadelphia.
Hernandez told the jury that when he and Billy were sophomores at the Christian Academy, they used a Bible verse as a weapon against a male teacher who got "touchy-feely" with them. In court, Hernandez presented himself as a clean-cut, straight-arrow, honorably-discharged Air Force vet living with his girlfriend and newborn son at a house he owned in Mayfair. But none of that turns out to be true.
Billy Doe is currently suing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and his alleged abusers in a civil suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. Meanwhile, his former "best guy friend" Leo Omar Hernandez has filed a medical malpractice case filed in Common Pleas Court against a Philadelphia osteopath, a male doctor that Hernandez claims got him hooked on drugs and then had an abusive sexual relationship with him.
Records gathered for that medical malpractice case show that while Leo Omar Hernandez claims he's a victim, he also admits he's a former drug addict, steroid abuser, and a dancer in gay male strip clubs.
THE CRIMINAL APPEAL IN THE BILLY DOE CASE
Defense lawyers for a priest and a former Catholic school teacher convicted of sexually abusing Billy Doe plan to use Leo Hernandez's secret life in their appeal for a new trial in state Superior Court. The defense lawyers say the only witness to corroborate Billy Doe's story of sex abuse is a fraud and a liar.
Hernandez presented himself to the jury" as part of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson's family," recalled Michael J. McGovern, the lawyer for Father Charles Engelhardt. The priest is serving 6 to 12 years at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Northumberland County after he was convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault.
"It turns out that he [Hernandez] has a dark side that was never revealed to the jury," McGovern said. "All these new revelations that are being brought to my attention ... raise the important question of how much did Detective [James] Dougherty and the district attorney's office know prior to him [Hernandez] being presented as a witness."
A spokesperson for the district attorney's office, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment.
The question of what the district attorney knew or didn't know about Hernandez's secret life won't be answered during a hearing set for Oct. 28. That's the date when a panel of state Superior Court judges is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the appeal for a new trial on behalf of Engelhardt and Bernard Shero.
Shero, a former Catholic school teacher, is serving an 8 to 16-year sentence at SCI Houtzdale, Clearfield County, after being convicted of rape of a child, attempted rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor, and indecent assault.
McGovern says he's not going to mention the Leo Hernandez story during the few minutes he may get to argue his case before the Superior Court. But he does plan to include the Hernandez story in the formal record of his appeal.
"We are eager to include this in a supplemental motion," McGovern said. "However, we do not wish to delay the proceedings any further than already have been delayed."
WHAT THE CORROBORATING WITNESS HAD TO SAY
On Jan. 15, 2013, Leo Omar Hernandez, then 24, was sworn in as a witness in the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero.
Hernandez told the prosecutor he left the Air Force in 2008. He moved to the Mayfair section of Philadelphia where he worked as a nursing assistant and was scheduled to graduate nursing school in May 2013.
When asked by Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti if he had received an honorable discharge from the Air Force, Hernandez replied, "Yes." When asked by the prosecutor who he lived with, Hernandez replied, "My girlfriend, the mother of my newborn."
Hernandez told the jury he met Billy Doe in 10th grade. "He was pretty quiet, a rule breaker, just different from the majority of the school," Hernandez testified. "I think that is why we clicked so well."
Hernandez said he hung out with Billy Doe "every day" and acted as his bodyguard.
"I was [Billy's] protector, confidant, whatever you want to call it," Hernandez testified. "He had gotten himself into trouble around the neighborhood because of the way he looked."
At the time, Billy had "blond hair highlights in a predominantly Spanish and black neighborhood," Hernandez testified. "They could tell he wasn't exactly from the neighborhood. There was a couple situations where I had to get involved and protect [Billy]. And after that we just grew closer."
Then a high school teacher got touchy-feely.
"Teacher McAvinney, tall Irish fellow, white hair, he kind of weirded us out," Hernandez testified. "He was really touchy-feely, just awkward, just weird vibes that came from him all the time, weird sexual-type vibes to be specific."
"So me and [Billy] came up with a plan and we found a Bible verse pertaining to homosexuality and we printed it out," Hernandez told the jury. "We typed it up, printed it out and stuck it under his door."
On cross-examination, Hernandez was asked what the teacher had done to make him feel weird. "The same thing he did to [Billy]," Hernandez replied. "Pat my back, breathe over my shoulder, just be weird, really weird."
In direct testimony, Hernandez said it was the episode with the touchy-feely teacher that prompted a confession from Billy.
At the time, Hernandez said he and Billy were alone in Billy's basement drinking "a couple of beers."
The prosecutor asked about Billy's demeanor.
"Angry and nervous," Hernandez replied. "I'm pretty sure it is not too easy to tell a guy, especially when you are not homosexual, hey, I was touched or fondled. It is hard for me to talk about it in front of all these people, so I can only imagine him telling his best guy friend about it."
Hernandez then told the jury what Billy supposedly confessed about his sexual abuse.
"Well, both grades, 5th and 6th middle school, St. Jerome's, that two priests would touch him, try to perform oral sex and what not," Hernandez said. "And eventually, after that happened, later on in 6th grade, a teacher got involved and eventually the teacher actually had sex with him. [Billy]. That was about the end of the conversation there."
"I was shocked," Hernandez testified. "I was angry more toward McAvinney, I guess. That is the person I could relate his problem to."
Hernandez told the jury he left International Christian Academy to spend his senior year in Puerto Rico. He came back two or three years later, but realized he could no longer be friends with Billy. The prosecutor asked why.
"[Billy] got really involved in drugs, heroin to be exact," Hernandez testified. "And I was trying to get out of the city and make something of myself and I wanted [Billy] to be there with me but he just kept headed down that other path, so we just parted ways."
While Billy was doing drugs, Hernandez joined the Air Force. But according to Hernandez, he never forgot about his "best guy friend."
"I came back on leave, stopped at [Billy's] house," Hernandez told the jury. "I would always try my best to check in on him but he was still doing the same stuff so I left it alone."
A few months before the trial, Hernandez told the jury, he just happened to bump into Billy. On the witness stand, Hernandez sounded like he was reprising "Glory Days," the old Bruce Springsteen song about a guy who bumped into an old friend who used to be a "big baseball player back in high school:"
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
but all he kept talking about was ... Glory days
"I went to a bar after work, Hammerheads, Cottman and Frankford," Hernandez testified. "And I'm walking in and he is walking out. And we just see each other and what not and just yell and hug because it had been so long. And that was about when we first got back together."
Hernandez said he didn't have any idea that Billy was headed to trial. But Billy told him, "Oh, I'm going to court soon." He didn't say anything else about the case, Hernandez claimed to the jury.
Then, Hernandez got a call from Detective James Dougherty of the Special Investigations Unit, who interviewed Hernandez on Aug. 22, 2012.
On a six-page "investigation interview record," Detective Dougherty wrote out both his questions and Hernandez's answers in a Q and A format.
Q. "How often would you see or talk to [Billy Doe] after high school?"
The last question Detective Dougherty asked Hernandez was:
Q. "Leo, were you ever the victim of any kind of sexual abuse?"
Then Dougherty asked Hernandez to look over the record, make any corrections and sign all six pages of the statement.
Hernandez signed every page. On the last page, he signed and dated the record of his interview with the detective.
On March 28, 2013, two months after he testified in the Billy Doe case, Leo Hernandez filed a civil action complaint regarding "medical professional liability" in Common Pleas Court.
The complaint stated that Hernandez was treated by a doctor "initially for a common cold and later for concerns he had regarding his energy levels, sexual performance, strength training, and overall health."
"After an initial evaluation of Mr. Hernandez, which included an examination of his genitals," the complaint states, the doctor "injected testosterone directly into Mr. Hernandez's scrotum and testicles. It was the most pain Mr. Hernandez ever felt."
After the injections, Hernandez "was almost in tears and in too much pain to walk," the complaint states. "The next day, Mr. Hernandez's scrotum ballooned to the size of a small cantaloupe."
The complaint charges that the doctor "did not exercise reasonable and ordinary care in his medical treatment of his patient" and that the injections caused Hernandez "to lose his testicle and sustain other related injuries."
Hernandez, according to the amended complaint, "became addicted to the narcotic drugs and other drugs" listed above that he claimed were "over-prescribed" by the doctor.
In a document titled "Plaintiff's Answers to Lien Interrogatories" filed on March 8, 2014, a lawyer for Hernandez charges the doctor with "hooking him on pain medication in return for a sexual relationship" that "resulted in mental pain and suffering, including but not limited to, severe depression, anxiety, Plaintiff questioning his self worth and esteem, and damaging his ability to engage in meaningful, trusting relationships."
The doctor, who admits to a sexual relationship with Hernandez, denies injecting him with steroids or over-prescribing any drugs.
LEO HERNANDEZ'S DEPOSITION
On May 22, 2014, Hernandez was deposed by a lawyer for his medical malpractice case. Hernandez testified that he lived alone in his house for the past three years in Mayfair. Before that he lived alone in Bristol Township for 14 months, he said. He said his son did not live with him but with his mother in Gibbstown, N.J.
Regarding his military service, Hernandez testified that he served for two years in the Air Force at Elgin Air Force Base and received a general honorable discharge. But he was discharged early because of what he described as a "failure to adapt."
Asked why he failed to adapt, Hernandez replied, "Ask the military. I don't know. I didn't ask to be discharged. I just failed to adapt."
On a military discharge record know as a DD form 214, it says that Hernandez served one year and ten months in "explosive ordinance disposal." Under a heading on the form that says character of service, it says "under honorable conditions (general)." But under "narrative reason for separation" it says, "misconduct (serious offense)."
Hernandez was asked whether he had worked as a dancer anywhere.
"Yes," Hernandez replied. "Risque, Woody's, ICandy. That's all."
Hernandez testified that he worked as a dancer at the three clubs during 2011. He usually worked one or two nights a weekend, he said, but not every week. He met the doctor in February 2011 while working as a dancer at either ICandy or Woody's, he couldn't remember which.
Hernandez said he became involved in the relationship with the allegedly abusive doctor from March of 2011 until February or March of 2012.
"We had developed sort of a friendship," Hernandez said. It happened "after letting him know that I was a nursing student, that I danced part-time to try and make some extra money to pay rent. I guess he took interest in maybe coaching me or helping me along in my travels and so that's how that started."
"Since he already saw my body type and build from ICandy or Woody's, whichever club he had come out to," Hernandez said, the doctor told Hernandez he could show him how to "gain weight faster, be stronger and look better."
Hernandez sent pictures to the doctor of himself half-naked and naked, and posted naked pictures of himself on jackd.mobi, a website that advertises itself as the "gay men's social network."
But five months after Hernandez testified he concluded his relationship with the abusive doctor, Detective Dougherty, investigating the Billy Doe case, asked Hernandez on a written Q and A form if he'd "ever been the victim of any kind of sexual abuse?"
And Hernandez's answer, which he signed and dated on Aug. 22, 202, is "No."
How does he ever get around that?
"I stopped taking pills and all other drugs that should not have been in my body after I almost died in a Las Vegas hotel," he said. He said he got sick after taking drugs allegedly provided by the doctor including "Nitrous oxide, Percocet, Viocodin, Xanax, testosterone, marijuana, alcohol." In the deposition, Hernandez said he also used synthetic heroin.
"After I just got my testicle stuck I'm poking myself with needles, I'm doing Percocet," he testified. "I'm talking Xanax. I'm doing whippets. I'm smoking weed. I'm shooting my ass with needles and dancing at the club. I'm living this completely outrageous lifestyle. .. It was just a madman's lifestyle. I don't know who does that."
Michael J. McGovern, the defense lawyer for Father Engelhardt, has a hard time believing that Detective Dougherty didn't know about the secret life of Leo Omar Hernandez.
"Jimmy Dougherty is one of the sharpest detectives I've ever dealt with," said McGovern, himself a former prosecutor in the district attorney's office. "You mean to tell me he didn't know any of this toxic information?"
Less than two months after Hernandez "perpetrated a fraud" on the jury in the Billy Doe case, McGovern said, Hernandez filed his own civil case seeking his own ticket to "bonanza land."
Ralph Cipriano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.