Monday, March 2, 2015
A tearful mom and a cagey grandfather took turns today going after "Father Andy."
The mother of the alleged victim in the Father Andrew McCormick sex abuse case sobbed her way through testimony about her tortured altar boy son who used to pull his hair out and try to hang himself in a closet.
She was followed to the witness stand by her father, a retired silver-haired detective who looks like Matlock.
The alleged victim wouldn't tell his mother what went down between him and Father Andy. But it was "Pop" who took a hysterical call from his daughter, coaxed the whole story out of his nerve-racked grandson, and then announced to his family, "We're going to the police."
Up on the witness stand, Pop wasn't shedding any tears. He clearly had Father Andy targeted for a jail cell.
Father Andy is the 59-year-old priest accused of luring a 10-year-old altar boy up to his room in the rectory back in 1997 and allegedly trying to jam his penis in the boy's mouth. A jury deliberated four and a half days last March before announcing they were deadlocked on five sex abuse charges.
The district attorney had charged Father Andy with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault of a child, and corrupting the morals of a minor. The priest had pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The retrial in Courtroom 1102 got off to a slow start today because a juror was late to court. By 11:33, two hours after the court was scheduled to open, the mother of the alleged victim told her story.
She's a mail carrier from Bridesburg.
"I was happy" at first, she said when Father Andy asked her 9-year-old son to become an altar boy.
Then, "He didn't want to do it anymore," she said.
"I would force him to go," she said as she started crying for the first time.
Next, her son wanted out of St. John Cantius school.
Again, Mom refused.
"I had no idea," she said before grabbing a tissue.
She told the jury how, after her brother died, she had confided in Father Andy her concerns about her son.
"My brother was an effeminate boy," she said. "I worry about" her son, she told the priest, "because he was feminine."
"He would pull his hair out of his head," she said, sobbing again. Then she found the hang noose in his closet.
She told her son, "If you like boys it's OK." But he replied, "It's not that," she said.
Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright decided it was a good time to take a break.
For the second straight day, the jury of 10 women and two men was asked to clear the room because a witness had broken down on the stand. Last Friday, on the opening day of testimony, it was her son who lost it before he even started testifying.
After the courtroom was cleared, defense lawyer Trevan Borum complained to the judge about "questions designed to evoke emotion." He also wondered about the prejudicial effect of a jury watching a sobbing witness.
"There's simply no way to control that," the judge said. She told the defense lawyer that when a witness breaks down she would decide if and when the jury needs to be shipped out.
"I do that when it's appropriate," she said.
Borum was having another tough day.
Earlier, he had filed a motion for a mistrial because he was angry about a Philadelphia Daily News story on Friday. The story said that Father Andy was placed on administrative leave by the Philadelphia archdiocese back in 2011 "in response to allegations of sexual misconduct with minors."
At the time, Father Andy was pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Bridgeport, Montgomery County. A loyal band of the priest's former parishioners have stuck by Father Andy, appearing in court every day to support him.
In court on Friday, Borum had angrily told the judge that the priest's administrative leave had absolutely nothing to do with sex abuse.
The judge did not publicly rule on the mistrial motion, but it didn't seem to be going anywhere. Borum also asked that the judge poll the jury and dismiss anybody who had read the story. Jurors aren't supposed to be paying attention to media reports about the trial.
The judge also has a gag order up that forbids any of the lawyers in the case from talking to the media, so it's hard to find out any additional details.
When mom was back on the witness stand, she told the jury about how back in 2011, she called her son and said, "I just saw Father Andy on the news. Did he ever do anything with you?"
Her son, she said, would only claim that the priest "just talked weird."
But later that year, her son told her it was worse than that.
"We were sitting on the couch and he just came right out with it," she said. "Father Andy molested me."
Her son, she said, still suffers from anxiety and nightmares.
"He would wake up shaking and crying," she said. But he wouldn't tell her what really happened.
On cross-examination, Borum asked about details of the suicide attempts. He wanted to know why, when she spoke with detectives, she didn't tell them about the noose and the belt that she found in her son's closet, tools her son allegedly used to repeatedly try and hang himself.
The witness explained that on the statement she gave to detectives she did talk about her son's attempts to "hurt himself," and desire to "kill himself." But she agreed that she didn't go into all the gory details.
On redirect, the witness told Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp why she was circumspect when she talked to detectives.
"I was totally devastated," she said.
That set the stage for Pop.
He's a former Air Force veteran who spent 23 years as a detective with the Philadelphia Police Department before he retired and embarked on a second career as a detective with the Montgomery County District Attorney.
In Montgomery County, he worked with the narcotics unit and the sex crimes unit before he retired a second time.
All told, Pop had 41 years of experience in law enforcement. When his daughter called him "hysterical and crying" about her son, Pop knew what to do.
He spent two hours pulling a statement out of his grandson. Then he went over all the details with his grandson and got him to sign it.
His grandson was "very upset," the witness told the jury. He was shaking, "his eyes were glazed."
"We're going to the police," Pop announced to his grandson. "I told him this was very serious."
On cross-examination, Borum basically gave Pop a pass.
On redirect, Pop told the jury more about his grandson's agony.
"He was very nervous," Pop told the jury. "He was talking to his grandfather. He had a tear in his eye. I've never seen a kid so nervous."
Borum wisely sent Pop on his way before he could do any more damage.
Court was adjourned at 1 p.m. because Judge Bright had to attend to a sentencing in another case. The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.