The night before Father Charles Engelhardt died, a fellow inmate claims, the priest gave a dying declaration:
"Paul, I do not feel well. Please understand that I am an innocent man, who was wrongly convicted."
On Dec. 22, the inmate, Paul H. Eline, a former Temple Law student, filed as an intervenor with the state Superior Court in the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Charles Engelhardt, appellant.
In his application for third party intervention, Eline wrote that the matters he was bringing to the court's attention were "critical and constitute 'extraordinary circumstances' " that should be made part of the record.
At the time of his death last month, Engelhardt was an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Northumberland County. The 67-year-old priest had served nearly two years of a 6-to-12 year-sentence after being convicted on Jan. 30, 2013 of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. His accuser, however, a former altar boy dubbed Billy Doe, told an incredible and constantly changing story subsequently refuted by evidence gathered by the district attorney's own detectives. The priest died during an ambulance ride on the way to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa. while his conviction was under appeal with the state Superior Court.
Under federal rules of evidence, a dying declaration is an exception to the hearsay rule and is admissible as evidence in criminal homicide or civil cases. In his court filing, inmate Eline argues that in his final moments of life the priest had no reason to lie.
"There is no other reason for Charles F. Engelhardt to state anything but the truth, knowing that his life will be lost to improper medical procedures," Eline wrote in a "dissertation in support" of his application to intervene.
The inmate, of course, comes with baggage.
Eline, according to the Republican Herald of Pottsville, was convicted on Jan. 24, 2006 of 18 counts of deceptive business practices for not installing numerous swimming pools. The newspaper reported that state police "charged Eline with contracting with numerous people in Schuylkill and Berks counties to install swimming pools, accepting payments and not doing the work."
Eline, 66 years old in 2010, was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.
In October 2010, a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges upheld Eline's conviction and sentence on appeal, rejecting Eline's argument that his former lawyer ineffectively represented him by not adequately preparing for trial. In his appeal, Eline, according to the Superior Court judges, "failed to present credible evidence" to support his claim.
In letters to the priest's family, Eline wrote that Engelhardt was denied emergency heart bypass surgery that would have saved his life, strictly because of the cost.
In response, Susan McNaughton, a press secretary for the state Department of Corrections, wrote, "The only information I can provide you is the fact that Charles Engelhardt died of natural causes on Nov. 15, 2014. An inmate's cause of death is determined by the appropriate county coroner."
The press secretary did not address the claims made by Eline. In his letters, Eline wrote to the Engelhardt family that he treated the priest like a brother.
"He was very close and dear to me," Eline wrote the priest's family on Nov 25th. "I will sorely miss him as he was highly respected. I looked over Charles as if he was my own brother. So you know I was Charles' senior by a few years. I made sure no one, and I mean no one, either took advantage or even said a curse word to him."
Father Engelhardt was an oblate of St. Francis de Sales. In a Nov. 8th letter to his superior, Father Engelhardt wrote that he "started to get very dizzy" on the morning of Nov. 4th. His cellmate "thought I was going to fall and tried to get me to sit down," the priest wrote, but all he could do was lean against a wall.
He was taken to the hospital, where doctors began an angioplasty, "the procedure to open an artery through my right wrist," Engelhardt wrote. "I was awake the whole time."
Further tests determined that there were "other arteries on the other side of the heart that were greatly clogged and needed to be dealt with," the priest wrote his superior. Doctors told Engelhardt another procedure should be done immediately, the priest wrote. But the doctors told Engelhardt they wanted to give him time to recover from the first procedure before they performed a second, the priest wrote.
The priest was discharged from the hospital on Nov. 7th. He stayed the night in the prison infirmary and the next day, was sent back to jail.
"If Charles would have received the bypasses the first time he was rushed to the Geisinger Hospital, he would still be alive today," inmate Eline wrote the priest's family. "What I am really surprised with is Geisinger Hospital becoming involved with this denial of a life-saving treatment."
"The doctors and the hospital knew that Charles needed these bypasses at once," the inmate wrote. "The supply of blood to critical parts of Charles' body were not receiving blood or very little ... I know he would still be with us if he would have been treated correctly."
In a Nov. 27th letter to the family, Eline asked if the priest had informed them "of how barbaric this medical department is and the steps they take to 'avoid' costly medical treatment, either through medication or refusal of required surgery."
Eline referred to the prison's medical department as "a subcontractor who wins the proposal by the lowest bid." An innate "must be almost dead before any treatment is authorized," Eline wrote. "I know this for a fact, as I have been waiting close to two years for cataract surgery."
In a separate letter to Engelhardt's lawyer, Michael J. McGovern, Eline wrote on Nov. 15th that the state Department of Corrections "and the medical staff at another facility put me in a position of close to death, due to abuse. I have instituted a civil action in the Northumberland County Court pursuant to this abuse. I am self representing, as I have been unable to contact an attorney who is willing to review my case and pursue the litigation."
In the letter to McGovern, Eline wrote that he "did attend Beasley Law School, for two years and then transferred to Penn State, obtaining in total, a master's degree in mechanical engineering."
In his letter to the Engelhardt family, Eline said priest's death could have been prevented.
"When Charles came back from the hospital the first time he informed me that the hospital, after putting the solution in his veins, and discovering that the artery was 90 percent blocked," installed two stents, the inmate wrote. "But Charles was instructed at that time, by the doctor ... that he must have bypass at once the avoid the possibility of serious consequences."
"Now, this is why these bypasses were not done at that time," Eline wrote. "First the doc had five other inmates in the hospital" watched over by a half-dozen correctional officers.
"The medical firm would do anything to avoid this very expensive operation," Eline wrote. The doctors "gambled and the end result is the loss of Charles."
After he came back from the hospital, Father Engelhardt spent some time in the infirmary before returning to jail. His cell, however, was on the second floor. As a heart patient dealing with blocked arteries, the priest had difficulty climbing the stairs.
The priest asked a sergeant if he could be moved to a first-floor cell but the sergeant refused the request, inmate Eline wrote the Engelhardt family. The next day, another sergeant was on duty and Eline took up Engelhardt's cause.
"I instructed this sergeant that if anything happens to Charles, that I will hold him personally responsible for Charles's well-being," Eline wrote. "This sergeant immediately moved Charles to an empty room on the first floor."
When the priest told Eline he wasn't feeling well, "I instructed Charles to go lay down in his room," Eline wrote. "Right when Charles was getting up to go into his room, Charles stated" his dying declaration, Eline wrote. "Charles stated this because we were discussing his case and appeal."
"When Charles went into his room, I immediately went to this sergeant ... and instructed him to get Charles down to medical or call medical to come up here," Eline wrote. "He did not."
"The next morning, Charles went down to medical and he was immediately rushed back to the hospital," Eline wrote.
He never made it there alive.
In contrast to the prison's story that Engelhardt died of "natural causes," the lawyer for the oblates of St. Francis de Sales was told that the primary cause of death was multi-system organ failure, the second cause was complete heart blockage, and the third cause was coronary heart disease.
Father Engelhardt's family was grateful to receive the inmate's letters. It was far more information than they've gotten from prison officials about Engelhardt's last days. Prison officials waited two days before notifying the family about the priest's death.
"I think its wonderful that the man took the time to do all this," said Elaine Boyle, Father Engelhardt's sister, said of Eline. "I think he's sincere. And I'm so thankful to him, but it's so upsetting."
In his dissertation to the Superior Court, Eline ripped Billy Doe, Father Engelhardt's accuser, and Billy's lawyer.
"Today's society has evolved to the point of condemning a man who is completely innocent of any wrongdoing, strictly to achieve ... in plain words, a financial gain through deceit," the inmate wrote the court. That condemnation came "not only by the attacker, but by counsel representing this deceitful plot that is based one hundred percent [on] words from a dishonest person with the intentional goal of financial gain," the inmate wrote.
UPDATE: Apparently, the Superior Court was unimpressed with the filings by inmate Eline. On Friday Jan. 9th, the docket in the case of Commonwealth v. Engelhardt recorded that the application for third party intervention had been denied. There was no further comment.