|You paid Billy Doe how much?|
In the civil case of Billy Doe vs. the Archdiocese of Philadelphia et al., it's all over before it even got started.
This morning, lawyers in the case were scheduled to pick a jury in Courtroom 480 at City Hall, in preparation for going to trial at 9:30 a.m. Monday, "trial date certain," according to the court docket.
But late last night, Billy Doe's lawyers notified other lawyers in the case that the trial was off and the case was "being discontinued."
The big question is why. The short answer appears to be that with no money left on the table, Billy Doe's lawyers decided not to risk exposing their client's complete lack of credibility by proceeding with what would have been at best, a show trial. A show trial where the only thing left to gain was some headlines about a big jury verdict that they would have never been able to collect from the three penniless defendants left in the case.
But on the risk side of the risk/reward ledger, there was a chance, depending on the judge's rulings, that the show trial could have turned into a real trial, and Billy Doe would have been unmasked in court as a complete fraud. The next big question is what was it that Billy Doe and his lawyers were so afraid of coming out that they didn't want to run the risk of going ahead with the trial, and putting their boy on the stand?
In the absence of official comment, let the speculation begin. But before we get to that, however, how do you think Archbishop Charles J. Chaput feels right now? He's the guy who gave Billy Doe a confidential settlement in August because he'd presumably been frightened to death by his lawyers about the prospect of a big jury verdict for Billy, and against the church. But then, on the eve of trial, after that fat check from the archdiocese had already cleared the bank, Billy Doe and his lawyers punk out.
Who's left holding the bag? Archbishop Chaput, the chump who got suckered, possibly for millions. Not to mention all of those faithful Catholics who still throw their dollars in the collection basket.
|Party time for Billy|
Potential Time Bomb No. 1: Judge Rosalyn K. Robinson had yet to rule on a motion filed by the plaintiff for summary judgment against the late Father Charles Engelhardt, who died in jail after being falsely accused by Billy. If the judge ruled against that motion, it would have cleared the way for the lawyer for the late priest's estate to cross-examine Billy.
The door in the civil case was left open because the jury in Father Engelhardt's criminal case didn't reach a verdict on the most serious charge him, a count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child.
That same door, however, was closed to the other two defendants left in the civil case, ex-priest Edward Avery and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero. That's because Avery pleaded guilty and Shero was found guilty by a jury of multiple charges against him.
Regarding Avery and Shero, Judge Robinson had already ruled that each defendant was "collaterally estopped from denying or disputing that he committed the acts of sodomy and sexual abuse alleged in plaintiff's complaint."
But the judge had yet to rule on the motion for summary judgment against Engelhardt.
"Our argument is that a civil jury should be allowed to decide what assault if any occurred," Thomas R. Hurd, the lawyer for Engelhardt's estate, told Big Trial last week.
If Billy Doe was subject to cross-examination, Hurd could have had a field day. There was so much material to choose from.
For starters, there was all the evidence that didn't make it into the criminal trial of Engelhardt and Shero. Such as the meticulous calendars kept by Billy's mother that recorded all significant events in the lives of her two altar boy sons. Like every time those two altar boys were supposed to serve Mass. The problem for Billy was that his mother's calendars showed no early morning Masses during the school year Billy claimed he was raped by two priests.
Since the criminal trial of Engelhardt and Shero, lawyers in the civil case have come across plenty of "newly-discovered evidence" in the form of contradictory and false statements made by Billy Doe to his many drug counselors. One defense lawyer aptly described those statements as an ongoing "fantasy of sexual abuse."
The newly discovered evidence included medical records that showed that Billy at first told his drug counselors he had "no history of physical or sexual abuse."
Then Billy claimed to his drug counselors in chronological order that he was:
sexually abused at 6 by a friend;
sexually abused at 7 by a teacher;
sexually abused or raped at 8 by an unknown assailant;
sexually abused or raped at 9 by an unknown assailant;
sexually abused again at 9 by a 14-year-old family friend.
|Billy's lawyer on the eve of trial|
Potential Time Bomb No. 2: On Sept. 9th, Judge Linda Carpenter granted an "emergency motion to compel the independent medical examination" of the plaintiff. According to the judge's order, Billy Doe was required to travel from Florida to be examined by Dr. Stephen Mechanick, a forensic psychiatrist in Bryn Mawr.
If the forensic psychiatrist had some doubts about Billy's credibility, that could have posed a problem for Billy and his lawyers.
Potential Time Bomb No. 3: On the eve of the Billy Doe civil case, originally scheduled to begin Monday, a bunch of subpoenas went out seeking witnesses who could poke more more holes in Billy's stories.
People like retired Detective Joseph Walsh, who led the district attorney's investigation into Billy Doe's allegations. All the evidence that I've seen gathered by Walsh, and all the witness statements the detective took, contradicted the tales told by Billy. Including the statements the detective took from Billy's own mother, father and older brother.
The pile of evidence gathered by Walsh was so damning that one defense lawyer, Mike Wallace, used to say whenever he saw Walsh coming, "Here comes my detective."
Another problem witness for Billy would have been Judy Cruz-Ransom, a social worker who was a victims’ assistance coordinator for the Philadelphia archdiocese. Cruz-Ransom and another archdiocesan social worker, Louise Hagner, took the first statement from Billy, after he called in on an archdiocesan hotline to claim he was abused.
In the civil case, however, defense lawyers were able to depose Cruz-Ransom. And what did they discover? That Cruz-Ransom corroborated the testimony of Hagner in the criminal case, testimony that was relentlessly attacked during the criminal trial by the district attorney.
In her civil deposition, Cruz-Ransom confirmed many details told by Hagner. Such as Billy Doe appeared sober and seemed to be faking tears as he told wild stories about being anally raped for hours by his alleged assailants, getting punched and knocked unconscious, being tied up with altar sashes and strangled with a seat belt.
All those wild stories disappeared when Billy retold his tales to the police and grand jury, in favor of a completely new story line about strip teases, oral sex and mutual masturbation. Billy's explanation for his creative story-telling was that he was high on drugs when he talked to the social workers.
|Passing the basket for Billy|
A crusade that was a cynical political ploy for the district attorney of Philadelphia to cash in on the sins of the archdiocese by using phony victims.
Shero, serving 8 to 16 years, has an appeal pending before the state Supreme Court.
Msgr. William J. Lynn, serving 3 to 6 years, has an appeal pending before the state Commonwealth Court.
Former priest Avery, currently serving a sentence of 2 12 to 5 years, has no appeals pending. He just got turned down again for parole.
On Monday, Judge Rosalyn K. Robinson posted an entry on the court docket that said, "the court having been advised this case has been settled, the case shall be marked 'discontinued'" on the docket, and shall be "removed from the applicable list and inventory of pending cases."