Wednesday, April 25, 2012

No Return to the Courtroom for Father Avery

Shortly before 2 p.m., Jeff Lindy, one of Msgr. William J. Lynn's defense lawyers, stood up in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center to announce a deal.

The Commonwealth and the defense had agreed that there would be no questions on cross-examination of the former altar boy raped in 1998 by Edward V. Avery, the former archdiocese of Philadelphia priest now serving a prison sentence of 2 1/2 to 5 years.

Avery pleaded guilty on the eve of the archdiocese sex abuse trial to charges of conspiring to endanger the welfare of a child, and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old. His former victim, now 23, testified in court Wednesday about what the priest did to him. He described two sessions of oral sex and masturbation that took place after Mass in a supply closet at St. Jerome Church in Northeast Philadelphia.

Defense lawyers seemed eager to cross-examine the former altar boy, who was tearful, and did not appear overly confident on the witness stand. But the defense decided that the price of trying to poke holes in the witness's story was too high.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington had warned the defense that if they attempted to challenge the altar boy's testimony on the facts, the prosecution would tell the jury about Avery's guilty plea. The jury was never told why Avery disappeared from the defense table.

And Judge M. Teresa Sarmina had warned that if a contest arose over the former altar boy's testimony, she might allow five additional victims to appear in court who came forward in 2009 and 2010 to say that Father Avery had abused them back in the 1970s.

The final risk weighed by the defense was the specter of Avery being dragged into court in his prison jump suit to explain his whereabouts. That possibility was suggested twice by Judge Sarmina. So in the end, the defense it was wiser to let the former altar boy tell his story unchallenged. The thinking was, if they were able to poke holes in the victim's story, so what? Avery has already pleaded guilty.

So the prosecution was able to present their themes unchallenged to the jury, such as the church's penchant for secrecy, and lack of concern for the welfare of other possible victims.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti asked the witness if he had ever been told that Father Avery was accused of molesting another altar boy at a previous parish.

"No," the witness said.

Father Avery wasn't the first priest who abused him, the witness said.  He testified that he had been sexually abused in the sacristy by another priest at St. Jerome's, Father Charles Engelhardt. The priest was arrested in February 2011 on charges of oral sodomy and molestation.

In court Wednesday, the witness said the priests at St. Jerome had a code word for sexually abusing altar boys -- they called it "sessions."

A few weeks after he was abused by Father Engelhardt, the witness said Father Avery took him aside, and said, "He heard about my sessions with Father Engelhardt, and that our sessions would begin soon."

The priest took the boy into a storage closet, shut the door behind him, and put some music on a CD player. "It sounded kind of churchy," the witness recalled, but with more of a beat. "He had me doing a strip tease for him."

The witness recalled "swaying" while he was taking off his clothes, and Father Avery watching him "with this eerie smile."The priest took off his clothes, and "he had me sit on his lap," the witness said. Then the priest said it was "time for me to become a man."

Afterwards, "He told me I did good, he told me to clean up, and he left," the witness said. He did not tell his mother or his father, a sergeant in the Philadelphia police department. "I was scared; I thought I would get in trouble," the witness told the jury. "I didn't think anybody would believe me."

Two weeks later, the witness said, Father Avery repeated the abuse. When the priest was finished, the witness testified, he said, "God loves me, and he'd see me again."

But the witness said after the abuse, he made sure he never served as an altar boy at any Mass said by Father Avery.

The witness said his life deteriorated after that. He started drinking and smoking pot. He attempted suicide. He took perkocets, oxycotton, xanax and heroin. "I think I'm up to 23 treatment facilities," he told the jury.


  1. "Defense lawyers seemed eager to cross-examine the former altar boy, who was tearful, and did not appear overly confident on the witness stand. But the defense decided that the price of trying to poke holes in the witness's story was too high."

    This is why these guys are such good lawyers. PDs and inexperienced defense lawyers would have walked right into the trap of cross examining these victims and thinking that they could contain Avery if he came forward to testify.

    The most difficult trial decisions are deciding what questions you should not ask, what witnesses you should not put on, and what evidence you should not present. For anyone concerned about the rights of the accused in this case; rest assured that they have the best team that money can buy. This was a very smart move by the defense lawyers. They had a bad day due to the witnesses, but they did not do anything to make it worse.

  2. Catholic lawyers are like Catholic priests and bishops. They know the law well, they know how to be vicious to their victims to protect their money. They know how to distort the truth, and they know how to abuse the least of God's brothers.

    However, they are completely anti-Christian, just like bishops.

    The only reason they wouldn't abuse this victim is that they know the jury would find out proof that he's telling the truth because the prosecution would be able to say Avery admitted it. If they could humiliate him like they humiliated Mark, they would, regardless if they knew Mark was telling the truth.

    Catholic lawyers don't care about truth or people. They care about money, just like Catholic bishops and priests.

    This is a horrible, evil church, and if God isn't stupid, God will give them a horrifying eternity for setting this example for the fools that follow them.

  3. "Catholic lawyers are like Catholic priests and bishops. They know the law well, they know how to be vicious to their victims to protect their money. They know how to distort the truth, and they know how to abuse the least of God's brothers."

    The defense lawyers in this case are not "catholic lawyers." They are very competent criminal defense lawyers that uphold the highest standard of ethics going back to John Adams defense of British Soldiers after the Boston Massacre. The power of the state to throw someone in jail and deprive them of liberty is an awesome one. Our system of justice relies upon zealous advocacy of even the most deplorable defendants. And these guys are some of the best in the business.

    It is the jury's job to find the facts in accordance with the law; and they take an oath to do so. The witnesses take an oath to tell the truth. But an attorney takes an oath to zealously defend his or her client; and it is not always pretty or palatable.

    Brennan, Bergstrom, and Lindy are very fine ethical lawyers; and I am very glad that they are the lawyers involved in this case. It really makes any claim that the trial is unfair frivolous. They are that good and if anything are the varsity playing against the JV lawyers from the DAs office. And unlike some of the church's civil lawyers from the past who had such a close relationship that it was unclear where the church began and the firm ended, these guys are not on the church's regular retainer and have not made any significant income from regularly representing the church in criminal matters.

    It is hard sometimes to separate the attorney from the cause. But Bergstrom's defense of blaming the Cardinal is not anything that the AOP can be happy about. (From the GJ strategy it seems clear that Lynn was set up to be the Cardinal's fall guy). But Bergstrom represents Lynn not the AOP or the memory of the late Cardinal--even if they are footing the bill.

    I guarantee you could survey any lawyer that ever dealt with or opposed Tom Bergstrom and you would hear nothing but high praise. He defended John DuPont and many other notorious criminals, but he is also a former prosecutor and marine officer. He is a consummate professional in and out of the courtroom. He is the dean of the Philly defense bar; and the other two defense lawyers are only a half notch below. He has no regular or ongoing relationship or agenda to protect the church or its reputation. He is just trying to defend his client, which is his sworn duty.

    I can remember talking to one of Bergstrom's counterparts a long time ago, and asking him how he can sleep at night defending all those "scumbags." He said, "I sleep sound over the scum bags, they are guilty and usually go to jail despite my best advocacy because they are guilty. If they don't go to jail, then the prosecutor let the people down. It's the innocent people that keep me up at night, I am the only thing keeping them from a grave injustice, and if they go to jail then I didn't do my job." Being an ethical criminal defense lawyer is an awesome responsibility and there are very few that do it well. Three of the ones who do it properly are sitting in that courtroom defending the defendants.


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