Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jurors Say They're Deadlocked; Judge Says Keep Deliberating

Shortly before noon, the jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case sent a note to Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, saying on their 12th day of deliberations, they were deadlocked on four of five counts.

"Please advise us of our next step," the note concluded.

The judge told the jury to continue deliberating. She offered her assistance to break the deadlock. The judge offered to read back her entire hour-long set of instructions to the jury, known as a charge, which covered the crimes the two defendants are accused of, as well as how to evaluate direct and circumstantial evidence, and the concept of reasonable doubt, among other legal topics.

The judge offered to do read backs on days of testimony regarding Mark Bukowski, the accuser of Father James J. Brennan, along with testimony from Bukowski's mother, and testimony from a former 10-year-old altar boy who was sexually abused by Father Edward V. Avery.

The offer of read backs on the testimony of the three witnesses was a complete reversal of Judge Sarmina's position of last week, when she told the jury she did not want to have days of testimony read back to the jury.  "I'm certainly not gonna have the whole trial re-read for them," the judge said as of last Tuesday. But on the day the jury announced it was deadlocked, the judge said that reading back three days of testimony was better than having to retry the entire case.

The jury must be getting used to a judge who changes her mind. Last week, Judge Sarmina told the jury on Thursday night that Msgr. William J. Lynn did not have to have criminal intent to be found guilty of conspiring to endanger the welfare of children. Then, the next morning, the judge told the jury that Lynn did have to have criminal intent to be found guilty of conspiring to endanger the welfare of children.

On Wednesday, the judge gave the jury Thursday off, because of "family matters," but she announced that jury deliberations would resume at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

The jury did not specify in their note which of the charges that they had reached a verdict on. Msgr. William J. Lynn is accused of one count of conspiring to endanger the welfare of children, and two counts of endangering the welfare of children. Father James J. Brennan is accused of one count of endangering the welfare of children, and one count of attempted rape.

The note to the judge said that the jurors were "firm on their votes" except for two jurors on one charge, meaning there was a 10-2 split. One of those jurors might change their mind after re-reading more evidence, the note said, but even if that juror flipped, the jury would still be deadlocked on that one charge, the note said.

Judge Sarmina gave the jurors a standard instruction known as a "Spencer charge," which basically says, go back and give it another shot. But then the judge gave the Spencer charge her own spin, telling the jury that if they couldn't reach a verdict, the case may have to be tried again, at considerable expense and inconvenience.

Alan J. Tauber, a defense lawyer for Msgr. Lynn, objected to the judge's mention of future re-trial as potentially coercive and irrelevant, but the judge didn't agree. Tauber asked the judge to just read the standard Spencer charge from the American Bar Association, but she declined.

The judge's freelancing on the Spencer charge set off defense attorney William J. Brennan, who represents Father James J. Brennan. William J. Brennan asked five times for a mistrial, but was denied each time by the judge.

William J. Brennan charged that the judge had improperly inserted herself into the deliberations. "That was not a Spencer charge, that was a Sarmina Spencer charge," defense attorney Brennan said. "You in effect made yourself the 13th juror."

But the judge overruled him.

When the jury filed back into the courtroom at 4 p.m. after they asked to be dismissed for the day, they looked tired. One juror was yawning, another stared straight ahead with his arms folded across his chest. Some jurors stared off blankly into space, while others watched the judge as she gave her standard instructions about not discussing the case with anybody, and not tuning in to the news media.

"Thank you and I'll see you Friday morning," the judge said.


  1. Lewis Carroll is watching this trial from somewhere with a Cheshire cat grin on his face

  2. Years ago, I was on a jury. This was when I lived in Phoenix, Az.. In fact, Sandra Day O’Conner was the judge, before she went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
    It was a murder trial. A couple stole a car, stole a gun, and killed the manager of the farm workers in an onion field just outside of Phoenix.
    This trial happened to be charging just the girl ( who was not the one who fired the shot ) The guy had already been found guilty of killing the manager.
    She was charged with being an accomplice of steeling a car, stealing a gun, and killing the manager. ( they shot him to rob the cash that he was paying his workers..)

    After the prosecutor and defense was done, we were ordered to go to this room and decide if this girl was guilty. BUT… before we went, Judge O”Conner gave us lots of directions and several documents which described the laws, and we were instructed that we had to follow the law.

    When I got out of the jury box, and went into our closed door room, I had been convinced that the girl was guilty of being an accomplice to stealing the car, and of stealing the gun. but NOT of murder.

    BUT, after hours of deliberating and constantly having to follow the law…. We came up with, “She was NOT guilty of stealing the gun, she was HOT guilty of stealing the car, BUT she WAS guilty of murder.
    It was all very interesting, and I will never forget it.

    btw. about a week after the trial was over, I got a letter ( each one of us jurors got a letter ) from Judge Sandra Day O’Conner, saying that she thanked us for our verdict, and that we made the correct decision, because there was a whole lot of information which was not allowed in the trial, which this girl had done before..

    I can’t wait to see what this Philly jury is going to decide… But no matter what, the ugly truth being exposed and I hope it has given some validation to the victims!


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