Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Confident "Billy Doe" Returns to Courtroom 304

By Ralph Cipriano
for bigtrial.net

The victim dubbed "Billy Doe" in a 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report returned to Courtroom 304 today after an absence of nine months. Billy was back at the Criminal Justice Center to testify against Father Charles Engelhardt and former teacher Bernard Shero in the second round of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case.

He was a slender, dark-eyed 24-year-old who sported close-cropped hair and a wispy goatee. He was also a much more confident witness this time around as he grimly and methodically recounted the horror of being a 10-year-old altar boy passed from one child rapist to another.

For nearly two hours, Billy told his story, and it seemed to have a profound effect on the jury. One man lowered his head and buried his face in his hand as Billy related the gory details of one rape, while other male jurors averted their eyes in embarrassment. When Billy talked about his descent into drugs, another male juror sadly shook his head.

In short, it was a great day for the prosecution, but the big test is yet to come. On Wednesday, Billy Doe will be cross-examined for the first time by defense lawyers for Engelhardt and Shero. Whether his story holds up will probably decide the case.

In court today, the prosecution set up Billy's testimony by sending four witnesses to the stand who could confirm various parts of his story. They came in reverse order of importance.

The first witness was Lynda St. Peter, the 50-year-old mother of a former classmate of Billy's. 

St. Peter, a non-Catholic, said she enrolled her son John, now 24, in St. Jerome's because she wanted him to have a better and safer education that he could get in the public schools. John St. Peter became an altar boy who served at Mass with Billy.

Lynda St. Peter recounted that Billy frequently called John to try and get him to take his turn as an altar boy. She never gave a second thought to Billy's repeated efforts to get out of serving Mass until March 2010, when a detective from the Special Investigations Unit called her son, and told him that back in fifth or sixth grade, one of his classmates at St. Jerome's may have been molested.

Lynda St. Peter told the jury how that night, her son John, and his younger sister Samantha, 21, who also attended St. Jerome's, took out John's old eighth grade yearbook and went through the pictures, trying to guess who the victim of sex abuse might be.

"They both decided that it was" Billy, St. Peter told the jury, prompting a defense objection that was overruled by Judge Ellen Ceisler.

John St. Peter, 24, was the second witness. He told the jury that he met Billy when they were both Cub Scouts in first grade. Billy was "a happy kid, very outspoken, always joking, positive." The two boys played hockey together. Then, some time after the fifth or sixth grade, John St. Peter said he noticed a change in Billy.

"He just stopped talking,"St. Peter said. "He secluded himself from everything."

Then, in 2010, when he got a call from a detective, St. Peter said of his family, "We were all so shocked." That's when he and his sister went through John's old year book and stopped turning the pages when they came to Billy's picture.

The yearbook story prompted another objection from Michael J. McGovern, the lawyer representing Father Engelhardt.

"Your Honor, this is a parlor game," McGovern objected, but he was overruled once again by the judge.

On cross-examination, John St. Peter stuck to his story. "I saw a dramatic difference," he told the jury. Billy had become "a dark, secluded kid."

McGovern whipped out that old St. Jerome's yearbook and showed St. Peter photo after photo that showed Billy mugging for the camera.

"Does that seem like a dark, dreary person?" McGovern asked.

"He's smiling," St. Peter conceded. "He's doing a silly pose," he said when confronted with another  yearbook photo.

McGovern pressed his argument. He kept trying to bring out that according to grand jury testimony, not even Billy's mother detected the drastic change that St. Peter saw in Billy. Who knows this kid better, you or his mother, McGovern asked. That line of questioning prompted frequent objections from the prosecution, and every time, the judge overruled the combative but clearly frustrated defense lawyer.

"Mr. McGovern, do you want to give a speech, or do you want an answer to your question?" the judge finally said, before McGovern gave up and sat down.

On redirect, Ast. District Attorney Mark Cipolletti asked St. Peter what his take was on Bernard Shero.

"Being older, looking back, his actions were inappropriate," St. Peter said, prompting another objection from Burton A. Rose, Shero's lawyer, which was also overruled by the judge.

When asked by Cipolletti to elaborate, St. Peter said that Shero frequently put his hands on students, rubbing their backs and in general, was often "getting inside your personal space."

Next up was Robert Bowman, 25, another former classmate of Billy's from St. Jerome's. Bowman, another former altar boy, told the jury that when he met Billy in the second or third grade, he was an "energetic, talkative, extroverted, friendly guy."

"Around sixth or seventh grade, you could definitely see a change in him," Bowman said. "He just became introverted, a loner." Bowman recalled seeing Billy frequently walking by himself with his hood up over his head. "He looked ashamed," Bowman said, prompting another defense objection that was overruled.

The prosecutor asked Bowman about Shero.

"He was my sixth grade teacher," Bowman said. "He was a strange guy, he was pretty weird."

After another defense objection was overruled, Bowman said that Shero was "very touchy-feely," and that he once recalled seeing him snap a female classmate's bra strap.

Did you see that, Bowman recalled telling classmates.

The fourth and final set-up witness -- and by far the best -- was Leo Hernandez.

Hernandez, 24, a charismatic, self-assured Air Force veteran, testified that he met Billy on the first day of class at the International Christian Academy, when the two were both 14-year-old high school sophomores.

"We met, clicked, and been friends ever since," Hernandez said. He recalled how his friendship had blossomed with Billy.

"I was [Billy's] protector and confidante," Hernandez said. At the time he met Billy, he had "blonde highlights in his hair" and clearly looked like an outsider in a black and Latino neighborhood.

"In a couple of situations, I had to get involved and protect" Billy, Hernandez said.

The friendship took another turn when a high school teacher got "touchy-feely" with both boys, and began putting out "weird sexual type vibes," Hernandez said.

To ward off unwanted attention, Hernandez and Billy typed up a Bible verse that railed against the evils of homosexuality, and slipped the note under the teacher's door. But Hernandez noticed that Billy was much more rattled by the teacher's actions than Hernandez was.

One night, when they were hanging out in the basement of Billy's house, two underage kids drinking beer, Billy explained that he had run into men like that before.

Billy flashed two emotions that night, Hernandez testified, he was "angry and nervous."

Hernandez tried to tell the jury how difficult it was for Billy to talk about his ordeal at St. Jerome's.

"It's hard for me to talk about it in front of these people," Hernandez told the prosecutor. Imagine how hard it was for Billy to talk about it to "his best guy friend," Hernandez said.

Billy told him that back in fifth grade at St. Jerome's, "two priests would touch him and try to penetrate" him, Hernandez testified. Then, in the sixth grade, Billy told Hernandez, " a teacher got involved and had sex with him."

"I was shocked, I was angry," Hernandez told the jury.

They were friends for two or three years after their sophomore year. But then Billy "got involved in drugs; heroin to be exact," Hernandez said. Hernandez moved to Puerto Rico and joined the Air Force. As for his old buddy Billy, "He kept heading down that other path," Hernandez said.

Last September, Hernandez was back in Philadelphia when he ran into Billy at a bar. They wound up hugging each other and talking for hours. Hernandez told the jury it was clear that Billy had cleaned himself up. "He's a whole 'nother" Billy, a smiling Hernandez testified. "He's not a heroin addict any more."

On cross-examination, Hernandez stuck to his story without any sign of hesitation. He told incredulous defense lawyers that Billy had definitely come clean when they were just 14 year-old kids that night drinking beer in Billy's basement. When asked why Billy never talked about the subject of sex abuse again, but came clean to his pal about his drug problems, Hernandez said, "Talking about drugs is pretty easy. Taking about a grown man touching you, that's pretty hard."

On redirect, Ast. District Attorney Cipolletti asked Hernandez if Billy had made such a confession, why didn't Hernandez go the police and report the abuse?

"I'd be breaking [Billy's] trust," Hernandez said, before he left the witness stand.

The stage was set for Billy Doe.

He had last appeared in this same courtroom on April 25, 2012, when he testified at the trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn. Billy seemed shaky that day and less than confident. He got a break when defense lawyers decided not to cross-examine him.

But Bill Lynn was convicted on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, namely Billy, because a jury decided that Lynn did not do enough to keep a known abuser, Father Edward V. Avery, from raping Billy. Lynn is now serving a prison sentence of three to six years; Avery two and a half to five years.

Today, Billy told the jury how he got out of a drug rehab on Jan. 8, 2012, and has been clean and sober ever since. He said he's been living in Florida, where he works at his uncle's landscaping business.

St. Jerome's
He talked about his early days at St. Jerome's. "I was pretty outgoing ... I had a lot of friends."

He lived only a mile from St. Jerome's, and it only took him five to ten minutes to walk home.

To his Catholic family, priests were a big deal, Billy told the jury.

"They're servants of God," Billy testified. "You don't question them; you do what they say."

He used to assist Father Engelhardt when he said Mass. Billy remembered the priest as a "pretty nice" guy who was always cracking jokes. As an altar boy, Billy said, one of his jobs was to dispose of any left over sacramental wine. One day, Father Engelhardt caught Billy drinking the wine, rather than dumping it.

Billy was in a panic over being caught, but Father Engelhardt sat down beside him and "poured me more wine." The priest asked if Billy had a girlfriend, and if he had ever looked at porn.

The priest brought out his own collection, Billy told the jury, and showed the 10-year-old altar boy both heterosexual and homosexual porn. Meanwhile, the priest asked Billy if he had any girlfriends or boyfriends.

Billy told the jury he was thinking that the priest was pretty cool until he started talking about "sessions." The priest told Billy he was about to become a man and that "my sessions were going to begin."

A couple of weeks later, during the winter of the 1998-99 school year, Billy testified, Father Engelhardt asked him to stay after Mass, and "he told me my sessions were going to begin. He told me it was time for me to become a man."

At the time, the priest and the altar boy were in the sacristy at St. Jerome's.

Billy told the jury that the priest began by rubbing Billy's back and telling him that God loved him. "He started caressing me," and he told the boy to undress.

"Everything was going to be OK," Billy testified the priest told him. The priest caressed the boy's penis and performed oral sex on him. "I think he got tired and he wanted his turn,"Billy said.

The priest had the boy perform oral sex on him. Father Engelhardt told him, "Yes, I was doing a good job, I was doing it right,"Billy testified. After the priest ejaculated, the priest said, "God loves me,"Billy told the jury.

"He said I did a good job and then I was dismissed," Billy told the jury. "I walked home."

He didn't tell anyone because, "I was scared, I was embarrassed, I thought I was gonna get in trouble. I thought I did something wrong."

A week later, the priest tried to schedule another session with him, but Billy said he got angry and told the priest if he ever came near him, "I was gonna kill him."

The next predator to strike was Father Avery. It happened in the Spring of that same 1998-99 school year. Billy was still a fifth-grader. The priest lived in the same rectory at St. Jerome's as Father Engelhardt. Father Avery told Billy he had talked to Father Engelhardt about Billy, and that "our sessions were going to begin soon."

Father Avery took the boy into a storage closet just outside the sacristy and ordered him to strip. "He just sat there with this erie smile that he had." Father Avery played music on his boom box and had the boy dance while he took his clothes off. He told Billy, "Everything is going to be OK; this is what God wants," Billy testified.

The priest had the boy rub his leg and his genitals. The priest performed oral sex on the boy and inserted a finger into the boy's anus.

"I screamed," Billy testified. Next, the priest made the boy perform oral sex on him "until he ejaculated on me, on my chest, on my stomach."

"He gave me a cloth, he told me to wipe myself." After the priest was done, "I just walked around the neighborhood," Billy told the jury. "I thought it was my fault."

A few weeks later, in the sacristy, the priest told the boy it was time for another session. They returned to the storage room, and the priest had the boy strip again. The priest performed oral sex on the boy, and licked his rectum. Then the priest had the boy perform oral sex on him until he ejaculated.

"I went home and took a shower," Billy said. Once again, he didn't tell anybody.

"I thought I did something wrong; I thought it was my fault; I thought I was gonna get in trouble," Billy said. "I became very withdrawn, I stopped hanging with my friends ... I was very depressed."

The next year, in sixth grade, Billy's teacher for English and home room was Bernard Shero.

Billy said he thought Shero was weird. He was "touchy-feely" and always talking about the hygiene of the penis.

One day after school, Shero offered to drive Billy home, but after Billy got in, Shero drove off in the opposite direction. He stopped the car in Pennypack Park.

He brought Billy in the back seat, undressed the boy, and attempted to anally rape him.

"I screamed and kind of pulled away."

Shero then had Billy perform oral sex on him until the teacher climaxed.

"I ended up just getting out of the car and walking home," Billy said.

Billy told the jury how he began smoking marijuana and taking pills before he became a "full-blown heroin addict." He said he had been in more than 20 drug rehabilitation clinics before he finally kicked his habit. He's also been arrested many times for drug possession.

Billy told the jury how he called an archdiocese hot line for sex abuse. But when counselors came to his home to visit him, "I was retarded," Billy said. "I was high on numerous drugs and semi-comatose" when he talked to the counselors.

But today, he said, he's a sober man.

On Wednesday, a jury will see whether Billy's story holds up under cross-examination. Expect the defense lawyers to bring the heat.

The stakes will be high. At the first archdiocese trial, a prosecution-friendly judge allowed the district attorney to parade an army of detectives and alleged abuse victims through the witness box, so they could testify about a pattern of abuse in the archdiocese that allegedly dated back to the 1940s.

This time around, however, Billy is expected to be the  only victim to take the stand. So the fate of lthis case rests entirely on Billy's thin shoulders.


  1. Billy had two years to get prepared to be questioned, and obviously he was coached very well.

    1. Really? And you say this because you've been a trial lawyer and have experience trying to prep a crime victim to testify at trial? Rape victims, particularly former drug abusers with lots of baggage, are not easy witnesses to prepare in any way, no less coach. It could also be that he has been clean for more than a year, and just is a bit clearer than he was only a few months after drying out. And I assume that the ADA coached the Air Force veteran who testified that Billy made a prompt report. Oh, yes, Avery pleaded guilty despite agreeing to a detailed colloquy setting forth the factual averments to his crime; and the other teacher's suicide gesture was like O.J.'s, he was just so distraught over the accusation. Church apologists, like climate change deniers, truthers, and birthers, just believe in this incredible conspiracy of prosecutors, judges, grand jurors, victims, the media, and witnesses, all working together to embarrass mother rome. I have cousins and aunts who were members of the catholic clergy and they never touched a child or did anything wrong. There are lots of good priests. But defending somebody blindly simply because they wear a black collar is a very strange form of denial. The average rape victim in Philly has no less a checkered background than Billy and there is usually a lot less corroboration; in this case, a guilty pleas. People go to jail for a long time on the word of one accuser, and juries have to make judgments about credibility all the time.

    2. Hey dave how much does the church pay you ? How is your pal gordon mcrae doing ? Is he still in jail? Why don't you come to the trial and introduce yourself, I am sure given your prominence may would like to meet you !

    3. Kopride, I do not "blindly defend" priests because they wear a collar. Sadly, many priests have committed abominable crimes.

      But we have now learned that this accuser has told of a single rape happening at *three entirely different places*. I think we should keep an open mind and remember that the prosecution has the burden of proof. Meanwhile, this accuser has serious credibility issues.

      Finally, your claim that Avery pleaded guilty "despite agreeing to a detailed colloquy setting forth the factual averments to his crime" is completely contradicted by Ralph's reporting.

      !!! "On the day Avery was sentenced, March 22, the former priest was never asked if the charges against him were actually true, or whether he had done the crimes he was accused of committing." !!!


      In other words, your facts are wrong.

    4. Dave "Blind Monkey" Pierre,

      In PA, there has to be a colloquy in order to plead guilty. It can be written or oral. In this case, there was a written colloquy which admitted his guilt quite clearly:

      "In an attachment, Avery's "written guilty plea colloquy" says that on March 22, the day he pleaded guilty, Avery signed his name on a document that says, "I admit I committed the crime[s]" of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and conspiracy to commit endangering the welfare of a child ... "Nobody promised me anything or threatened me or forced me to plead guilty. I, myself, have decided to plead guilty. I know what I say today is final."


      There was also an oral colloquy:

      "Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, Avery admitted conspiring with Lynn and others to endanger children. He also pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse for assaulting the Northeast Philadelphia boy in 1999.

      Asked by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina if he felt he had to plead guilty, Avery paused, then said: "It's something I have discussed and decided to do."


      Again, Dave, like that New Hampshire case where your pedophile friend also admitted child sex abuse, which demonstrated your complete inability to understand legal proceedings, or the rules of evidence, you can't plead guilty without admitting to the underlying facts of the allegation; and stating on the record, orally, or in writing, in front of the judge that your plea was not in any way coerced. In this case, Avery did both.

      There is no PA doctrine that where a party pleading guilty can say that he had his fingers crossed, or there was a secret plead deal etc. And Avery was not represented by a public defender. He was represented by a very fine local private defense attorney:

      "At his plea hearing Thursday, Avery sat alongside defense lawyer John P. Donohue, who asked the judge to consider Avery's decades of community service as a priest.

      "In the end, every human being proceeds on this Earth as a flawed human being," Donohue said. "Father Avery has made some horrible mistakes in his life."

      John Donohue does not let his clients get coerced or plead guilty to something they didn't do. So, what is it Dave? Are you a liar, an idiot, or just incapable of reading published articles detailing the legal proceedings. Previously, I gave you the benefit of the doubt that you were just blinded by your loyalty to your church.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Billy Doe, stay strong and you know the truth. Don't give up, you have thousands of victims and supporters who are with you in spirit.

    Let's hope that every person who saw, suspected or may have suffered sex crimes by Charles Engelhardt and/or Bernard Shero, will find the courage and strength to speak up, call police, expose wrongdoing, protect others and start healing.

    Keep in mind child predators rarely have only one victim and your silence only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511. snapjudy@gmail.com,
    (SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

    1. For the truth about Judy's anti-Catholic group SNAP, please see:



  4. Thank you, Ralph, for your excellent writing and reporting.

  5. You're welcome, Archie. And everybody, it's so great to have all of you back, and firing away, just like the old days. KOPRIDE, the Media Report, the Snappers, all the old gang is back. Please feel free to make yourselves comfortable, we've got a bumpy ride ahead. This trial is going to be hotly contested, and I have no idea how it's going to end up.

    Thanks everybody for migrating over to our new spot at bigtrial.net. Please feel free to check out what my colleague George Anastasia has been up to while following the mob trial. He and Marnie Hall have also posted an excellent video on all the big issues at the mob trial.

    Incidentally, back when we both worked at the Inquirer, and I was the religion reporter, George used to tell me that I covered the real mob. I have also posted a long story that looks at the latest developments in the long-running Fumo case, and takes a look at how the press has covered their old pal the Vince of Darkness.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Why do you keep deleting my comments? Please explain.

    3. Great to be back as well. Great posts as always. In addition to the church story, I think the biggest abuse/corruption story is still the Luzerne County "cash for kids" cases. That might be worth a post or two as well.

  6. SO happy to be reading you again Ralph!

    Anyone know who is paying the defense lawyers?

  7. As a retired FBI Agent and investigator for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for over four years I witnessed enough sexual abuse allegations to last me a life time. However, when I read of these allegations involving two priests and a teacher it did not ring true. It certainly could be true but in my four years experience I don't believe I found any cases where a victim was passed around. When I was served with papers to testify in another case I expressed my thoughts to the DA's detective and asked why Father Avery had pled Guilty since in my investigation of him previously he evidenced no proclivity to young children but rather teens. His response was he did not know. I have not researched it but I have heard the word "sessions" in several other cases and wonder if the two Grand Jury reports referred to this phrase. This is the problem with allegations. You want to believe the victim but with drugs and alcohol related problems you have to be careful. I am one of many being civilly sued by Mark Bukowski, another troubled person with drugs and criminality. At the time of my investigation of Father James Brennan I gave Bukowsi the benefit of the doubt although I had serious doubts that one of his two allegations against Brennan had any merit, namely that sometime after the first encounter, his mother asked Brennan to supervise his community service and while mowing the lawn, Brennan exposed himself in a shed. His later testimoney to the Grand Jury was exotic and his civil filing against me and others outlandish. I have never expressed this before but there is a possibility that Brennan and Bukowski's mother, both Irish, who socialized with a few pints around the kitchen table back when,were an irritant to Mark and he may have wanted Brennan out of the picture. I know I have gone on too much but I respect this site for focusing on the truth. The Archdiocese and it's crony lawyers are much to blame but there are some allegations that lack merit. Thank you Jack


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