|The original: General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson|
In Philadelphia, three strong silent types represent the law, the church and the Fourth Estate.
We're talking about District Attorney Seth Williams, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow.
If the prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was over, the stonewallers might prevail. But the prosecution of the church may have a second act, a third, and possibly even a fourth.
Msgr. William J. Lynn has been granted a new trial. One of Lynn's original co-defendants, Father James J. Brennan, is scheduled for a retrial on Oct. 24th.
And now a trio of criminal defense lawyers say there is newly discovered "Brady material" -- evidence beneficial to the defense allegedly withheld by the prosecution -- that may result in a motion for a new trial on behalf of former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, now serving 8 to 16 years for the alleged rape of altar boy "Billy Doe."
In Philadelphia, the prosecution of the Catholic Church is seemingly endless. And so are the legal challenges to what increasingly looks like a state-sponsored witch hunt. As those legal challenges play out, the big question is, how long can the stonewallers get away with ignoring the unmistakable stench of corruption?
Our first silent man is Stonewall Seth, the district attorney of Philadelphia.
In January 2013, this blog, citing previously confidential grand jury transcripts and police records, reported on some disturbing irregularities with the D.A's investigation of the church. Such as the district attorney allowing the parents of Billy Doe, including Billy's police sergeant father, to sit in on an initial interview with the D.A. Even though Billy was 21 at the time, and the usual procedure in the D.A.'s office and the Philadelphia Police Department called for interviewing an adult complainant by himself.
There were other problems with the prosecution, such as the claim by the D.A.'s office that Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen sat in on the initial interview with Billy Doe but supposedly took no notes. And the subsequent 2011 grand jury report written by Sorensen that contained 20 factual errors.
Many of those factual errors were blatant rewrites of grand jury testimony to fit preconceived story lines cooked up by the D.A. Other errors in the grand jury report were contradicted by evidence gathered by the district attorney's own detectives.
I sent a list of questions to Seth Williams, detailing the 20 errors in the grand jury report, and the irregularities with the investigation. His response -- stonewalling.
In April 2013, I wrote a lengthy story for National Catholic Reporter about the case -- "Star witness's story in Philadelphia sex abuse trials doesn't add up" -- that asked many of the same questions again, plus some new ones. Once again, District Attorney Seth Williams had nothing to say. The only response from his office came from ADA Sorensen, who tried unsuccessfully several times to talk an editor at National Catholic Reporter out of running the story. Maybe Sorensen had a personal stake in the outcome. Less than two months after the story was published, she resigned from the D.A.'s office.
In the absence of official comment from Williams, a commentator believed to be former ADA Sorensen briefly surfaced on this blog to try and dispute those errors in the grand jury report. The commentator, who only identified herself as "Mariana," tried to defend the indefensible by saying that a "spooning" committed by a priest wearing boxer shorts against a 14-year-old victim wearing boxer shorts constituted an anal rape.
Although "Mariana" impressed all of us with her legal citations, she disappeared after she was confronted with the proof of how empty her argument was. And here's the proof: on the eve of trial, not even Seth Williams, a man who can justify just about anything when it comes to putting a priest in jail, reduced the charge against Father Brennan from rape to attempted rape, with no explanation.
Just like when D.A. Williams decided to go after Msgr. Lynn on the same charge -- endangering the welfare of a child -- that a previous district attorney, Lynne Abraham, and a previous grand jury, had decided did not apply to Msgr. Lynn. It was a complete reversal of course, but one that D.A. Williams decided he didn't have to explain to the citizens of Philadelphia.
In Philadelphia, when you're the district attorney, you are apparently above question.
Last week, Newsweek ran a cover story about the "lying, scheming altar boy" behind the church prosecution. Once again, a list of 20 factual errors was sent over to the district attorney's office. Once again, Seth Williams had no response.
Four years into this mess, it's clear that Seth Williams has no answers and no defense to the serious questions raised about the integrity of his grand prosecution of the church, the falsity of his 2011 grand jury report, and the complete lack of credibility of his star witness.
How lame does the D.A.'s office look after four years of stonewalling? All Seth Williams can do is continue to hide under his desk and hope that no TV cameras ever show up to out him as the craven political animal he is, an elected official who put playing politics above the law.
Stonewall Seth may look even more pathetic if Father Brennan is retried as scheduled on Oct. 24th, four years after the original jury deadlocked. The case is ridiculous on the face of it: Father Brennan is accused back in 1996 of spooning 14 year-old Mark Bukowski in what the D.A. claims constituted an attempted rape. The victim's testimony is that both men were wearing T-shirts and boxer shorts when the alleged event occurred.
Bukowski is a former Marine who went AWOL and was discharged under less than honorable conditions. He's got a history of drug problems and criminal arrests. His own mother accused him of stealing from herself and her husband. Bukowski has pleaded guilty to forgery, identity theft, and two counts of filing a false statement to authorities.
In short, Bukowski makes another perfect star witness in Stonewall Seth's crusade against the church, alongside Billy Doe, the Newsweek cover boy with the Pinocchio nose.
The archbishop supposedly was a regular reader of this blog. And the word was that Archbishop Charlie was determined to slug it out in court with Probably Fraudulent Billy.
But then the Pope came to town. I heard the archbishop's lawyers ran some mock trials, and got worried about the prospect of an enormous jury verdict.
Somehow, between the pope's visit and the mock trials, Archbishop Chaput got weak in the knees. Given a chance to stand up for his falsely accused brothers in collars, one of whom had already died in prison, the archbishop decided that the truth wouldn't set anybody free. Instead, he rolled over, and threw the defendants under a bus. He had his lawyers write Billy Doe a check for an estimated $5 million.
Since he settled the case, Stonewall Charlie has refused all comment. His spokesperson no longer even responds to inquiries. In light of the Newsweek story that outed Billy Doe as a "lying, scheming altar boy," can Stonewall Charlie get away with not explaining his part in the $5 million shakedown?
Ironically, it's one of Stonewall Charlie's own lawyers that dug up the possible "Brady" material that may aid another defendant locked up by Stonewall Seth in a possible bid for a new trial.
On Jan. 29th, 2015, Nicholas Centrella, a lawyer for the archdiocese, was questioning retired Detective Joseph Walsh about all the contradictions in the stories told by Billy Doe/Danny Gallagher, as first disclosed in Newsweek. Walsh is the detective who led the D.A.'s investigation into Billy's wild stories of serial sex abuse.
Every witness statement that I am aware of taken by Detective Walsh contradicted Billy's wild stories. As did other witness statements in the case gathered by other detectives. The case overflowed with factual discrepancies. In his deposition, Walsh shed new light on what he did about it.
"What I recall is I would say a large percentage of the time where there was a discrepancy and I brought it to his attention, he would not answer," Walsh testified. "Most of the time going over these discrepancies, he either remained silent or said I was so high on drugs, I just said anything."
Or, Walsh said, Billy would tell a new story.
Walsh's deposition occurred before the archdiocese decided to pay Billy Doe, and settle the civil case. But when the archdiocese's defense lawyers from the criminal case read what Walsh had to say at his deposition, a light went off.
Three defense lawyers who represented Msgr. William J. Lynn say they were never informed about Walsh's continued questioning of Billy, and Billy's responses, or lack thereof. The defense lawyers say that the undisclosed police interviews with Billy amount to "Brady material." They're referring to the landmark 1963 case, Brady V. Maryland, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that if the prosecution withholds evidence beneficial to a defendant, it violates due process of law.
Burt Rose, Shero's lawyer in the criminal case, could not be reached for comment. But three of Lynn's criminal defense lawyers say that Walsh's deposition amounts to Brady material.
"It is and we never saw it," said Thomas A. Bergstrom.
"Of course it's Brady material," agreed Jeff Lindy.
"Yes, this is unequivocally Brady material," said Alan J. Tauber. "A detective re-interviewing a complainant who gives a different account of what happened, or refuses to answer, would constitute Brady material."
"This case rose and fell on the credibility of the complainant," Tauber said. "Any of his statements that call into question his honesty is Brady [material]."
Our last strong silent type is "Stonewall Billy" Marimow, editor of the Inquirer. When it comes to reporting on the prosecution of the archdiocese, Marimow's newspaper has a strange and indefensible record. They are staunchly in the pocket of the prosecution, serving as the D.A.'s press office.
During the 2012 trial of Msgr. Lynn, defense lawyers raised the argument with the judge that the law Lynn was charged under, endangering the welfare of a child, did not apply to him. It was the same argument that the state Superior Court cited in December 2013 when it overturned Msgr. Lynn's conviction the first time and granted him a new trial.
But what did the Inquirer reporter have to say about that argument when it was raised in court, and he had the opportunity to write about it? Thanks but no thanks. My editor isn't interested in that.
Nor was the Inquirer interested in investigating any of the irregularities with the D.A.'s investigation and the errors in the grand jury report, after they reported on this blog, or in National Catholic Reporter. Once again, by doing nothing, the Inquirer covered for Stonewall Seth.
In May 2013, the Catholic League offered to take out a $58,000 ad in the Inquirer that would have called into question the district attorney's prosecution of the church. The newspaper turned down the ad, said goodbye to $58,000, and wouldn't explain why.
"There are two scandals going on in Philadelphia, and both involve injustices done to the Catholic Church," protested Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League. "One is legal, and the other is journalistic."
"The legal scandal involves the prosecution of three Catholic priests, and one Catholic layman, in a case so incredible that it would be turn down as too fictional a script for a TV crime show," Donohue wrote. "The other involves The Philadelphia Inquirer's decision to keep the public in the dark about the case."
The Inquirer has run 55 stories about Billy Doe, described in headlines as the "central figure in the priest scandal," and the former altar boy "at the heart of a criminal case alleging sexual assaults." In an Inquirer editorial on Feb. 4, 2013, the newspaper also cited the Billy Doe civil case as justification for creating a two-year window in Pennsylvania to allow other alleged victims of sex abuse to file more civil lawsuits.
"A civil lawsuit filed by the former St. Jerome's altar boy known as "Billy Doe". . . could prove just as important as the criminal inquiries in finding the truth and achieving justice for sexual-abuse victims," the Inquirer editorialized.
The editorial was on behalf of a legislative proposal in Harrisburg to open a two year window for civil suits against sexual predators, and a companion proposal to remove the statute of limitations for sexual abuse, on the grounds that it can take decades for victims to acknowledge abuse.
"With another verdict in .. . lawmakers must take action for the victims of abuse," the Inquirer proclaimed about the verdict in the Engelhardt-Shero trial. But the rest of us have to wonder, would such legislation open the door to more Billy Does? With "Charlie the Chump" Chaput holding the archdiocese's purse strings, it would seem like a better ticket than the lottery.
But let's get back to the Inky, and Stonewall Billy. The Inquirer has run 77 stories about that tainted 2011 grand jury report, where they passed it off to the citizenry as gospel. But they haven't run one story about the errors in that grand jury report that are easily provable by comparing what the report says with what the witnesses actually told the grand jury, and what the evidence says that was gathered by the D.A.'s own detectives. All of this material is down in black and white.
On Oct. 25, 2014, I gave Marimow a chance to make amends. I sent him a detailed memo outlining the problems with the prosecution of the church and the grand jury report. I then made him an offer "with no strings attached."
I offered to hand one of Marimow's police reporters all of the grand jury transcripts and police files from the archdiocese sex abuse case. I offered to take that reporter around town and introduce him to sources in the case. And then, I told Marimow, his reporter and newspaper could conduct their own investigation of the investigation of the church, and that grand jury report, and come to their own conclusions. It would have been a public service for the region, and for justice.
On Oct. 28, 2014, Marimow responded by email, saying, "I've decided to say no thank you to your offer." He suggested I could stop by and talk to him about it. I wrote back, "I don't think we have much to talk about."
When the Newsweek story ran last week, philyvoice.com ran a story about it; phillymag.com ran two stories. Even at philly.com, the Inquirer's own website, blogger Emily Babay knew a news story when she saw one; she named the Newsweek story as No. 2 on the list of "What We're Reading." But over at the Inquirer, where Stonewall Billy reigns, they just ignored it. Nothing like being scooped on your own turf by a national magazine, but the Inky didn't care.
Last week, I wrote Marimow an email, telling him I was going to write a blog post about his newspaper's continuing lack of curiosity when it came to the Billy Doe story. I asked if he would care to explain why the city's paper of record was snoozing through yet another news cycle.
He did not respond. Instead, Stonewall Billy just kept on stonewalling. Just like those two other guys who have apparently taken that same vow of silence, Stonewall Seth and Stonewall Charlie.
They're all hoping it just goes away. The rest of us will decide whether they get away with it.