The judge in the Msgr. William J. Lynn sex abuse case announced today that she had found evidence of prosecutorial misconduct serious enough to warrant a new trial for the defendant.
Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright stated that new evidence divulged in a Jan. 13th hearing by retired Detective Joseph Walsh "should have been provided to the defense" back in 2012 when Lynn was originally tried and convicted on one count of child endangerment.
The judge said the misconduct in the district attorney's office amounted to violations of Brady v. Maryland, the landmark 1963 case where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors must turn over all evidence that might exonerate a defendant.
The judge, however, noted that the state Superior Court had already granted a new trial when the appeals court overturned Lynn's conviction last year. So the denied a defense motion to dismiss the retrial of the case, scheduled for May, because in the judge's opinion, the district attorney's office did not engage in "intentional prosecutorial misconduct" on the level of the infamous 1979 Main Line murders case, and so it did not justify blowing out the retrial.
Judge Bright was referring to the grisly murder of teacher Susan Reinert, and the disappearance of her two children, whose bodies were never found. It's a case where the death row murder conviction of Upper Merion Area High School Principal Jay Smith was thrown out because the prosecution deliberately hit evidence.
Nobody got murdered in the Msgr. Lynn case -- except the truth -- but the misconduct that Detective Walsh described in Judge Bright's courtroom sure sounded intentional to anybody who heard him testify.
Detective Walsh led the district attorney's investigation into the allegations of Danny Gallagher AKA "Billy Doe," the former altar boy who improbably claimed he was raped by two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher.
At a Jan. 13th hearing, Walsh testified that Gallagher's story didn't hold up under the detective's repeated questioning of the alleged victim. And Walsh said when he told Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen about it, her reply was, "You're killing my case."
Walsh testified that the month before the 2012 trial of Msgr. Lynn, he sat down with Danny Gallagher to prepare the D.A.'s star witness for testifying.
"There were a lot of discrepancies," Walsh Judge Bright on Jan. 13th. "I was going to iron out the discrepancies."
But, Walsh said, when he confronted Gallagher about the many factual discrepancies in his stories, "He just put his head down" and said nothing. Or claimed he was high on drugs.
When Gallagher refused to respond, Walsh said he told him that during the upcoming trial of Lynn a judge would force him to answer those questions.
"You can't just sit there and not answer those questions," Walsh said he told Gallagher. But, Walsh said, Gallagher "would stare at the table" and say nothing.
"He wouldn't answer," Walsh testified about Danny Gallagher. "He would clam up and put his head down."
The defense in the Lynn trial, however, was never informed of Walsh's continued questioning of Danny Gallagher, and Gallagher's responses or non-responses. The defense also was never told about Walsh's conversation with ADA Sorensen, as in "You're killing my case."
Does that sound intentional to you?
In court today, Judge Bright set another hearing date for next Tuesday at 11 a.m., where she would hear arguments on two remaining motions.
The defense has asked the judge to preclude the prosecution from bringing up at Msgr. Lynn's retrial the guilty plea of former priest Edward V. Avery. It was Avery who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing Danny Gallagher. But Avery later recanted his plea, saying he never even met Gallagher but pleaded guilty to avoid dying in jail.
Avery is still in jail serving a 2 1/2 to 5 year sentence for sexually assaulting Gallagher. So he could be brought back in his prison jumpsuit as a witness in any retrial of Msgr. Lynn. That's a spectacle Lynn's lawyers would surely like to avoid.
The other motion the judge has to rule on is the prosecution's plan to introduce a dozen cases of sex abuse as supplemental evidence in the case against Lynn.
At Lynn's original trial, the trial judge, M. Teresa Sarmina, allowed the prosecution to introduce into evidence 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse dating back to 1948, three years before the 66-year-old monsignor was born, to show a pattern in the archdiocese of covering up sex abuse.
The 21 supplemental cases, however, were the reason that the state Superior Court overturned Lynn's original conviction. The appeals court ruled that the prejudicial effect of the supplemental cases far outweighed their evidentiary value.
For the retrial, Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, has objected to the prosecution's plans to introduce a dozen cases as evidence because the cases, Bergstrom said, have nothing to do with Msgr. Lynn.
At today's hearing, Judge Bright told Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington that he better pare his list of a dozen supplemental cases.
"You need to narrow it down," the judge told Blessington. "I'm trying to be as straight-forward as I can be."
"I'll try," Blessington replied.
"Some of these cases might be relevant," the judge said. But she added that she was "not in the business of piling on."
That has to be bad news for the district attorney's office. Because from day one, that's all this case has been about.