Monday, January 28, 2013

Judge In Archdiocese Sex Abuse Case Keeps Jury Questions Secret

By Ralph Cipriano

She sealed the pre-trial hearings. She sealed the pre-trial motions.

Today, Judge Ellen Ceisler kept three out of four jury questions a secret, as she invited lawyers on both sides of the case back to her chambers for a couple of private discussions.

Since there's a continuing gag order in the case, lawyers on both sides are precluded from talking to reporters.

The one jury question read out in public today was why did the older brother of "Billy Doe" not honor a subpoena from the defense, which set off an argument between the prosecutor and a defense lawyer.

"He was never subpoenaed," Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti told the judge. When defense lawyer Michael J. McGovern started to argue, the judge cut him off, saying, "You sent it first class, you don't know if he got it."

Billy's older brother "never ignored the subpoena," Cipolletti insisted. The prosecutor complained that McGovern deliberately brought up the subpoena in front of the jury during the trial one day by loudly asking if Billy had shown up yet. When McGovern tried to speak again, the judge cut him off again, saying she was "upset when you did that and it's coming back to bite you now."

McGovern started to argue, then decided to zip it.

"There is no proof of service," Cipolletti told the judge. "That's what happens when you do things at the last minute."

The judge said she would write a note back to the jury, saying, "There's no evidence that he received a subpoena."

"I don't think it's gonna end today," the judge told lawyers in the courtroom.

Shortly after, the judge sent the jury home at 4 p.m. She did not bring jurors out so reporters could see what condition they were in. Spectators in the courtroom were not allowed to leave until the jurors had left the building.

It was the first full day of deliberations for the jury of eight men and four women in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case. The jury got the case last Friday, and deliberated for two hours before they were sent home for the weekend.

McGovern had talked in court about serving a subpoena on Billy Doe's older brother, who is a lawyer. The older brother attended St. Jerome Catholic School and also served as an altar boy, just like Billy did. He also went on to Archbishop Ryan High School, and graduated, unlike his younger brother who was kicked out in freshman year for possession of marijuana and brass knuckles.

In the absence of official comment, sources said jurors had asked for transcripts of grand jury testimony from Billy Doe, his mother, and Louise Hagner, the social worker from the archdiocese that Billy first told his story to back in 2009.

Hagner's handwritten notes of her interview with Billy, and a subsequent typed report were the subject of a lengthy cross-examination that found several discrepancies between what Billy told Hagner and what Billy subsequently told police and a grand jury. Billy told the jury in this case that he was high on drugs and did not remember anything he told Hagner.


  1. Of course, it's hard to tell as a mere observer, but this seems to be a very good sign for the prosecution.

    It almost appears that the jury is searching for a guilty plea rather than determining if the prosecution proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

    1. Strike and remove "guilty plea" above and replace with "guilty verdict."

    2. we go again. Dave getting ready to say if a guilty verdict is handed down the defendants did not receive a fair trial for some reason or another.

      Same song different lyrics;

    3. It's not fair to put words in other's mouths...let's be nice here.

  2. I rhought we'd have a verdict today. I need to be more patient, may take a couple of days. Thanks for the report, Ralph, I was waiting!

  3. Mr. Cipriano, as we await for the verdicts in this case I wonder if you may have any information pertaining to other clergy members who are under an internal investigations by the archdiocese regarding abuse towards children. Findings that Chaput said he would make public no later then May 2012.

  4. Update Tues 29 Jan: "The Philadelphia jury in the child-rape trial of a priest and ex-Catholic schoolteacher continued deliberations today, submitting a series of questions to the judge about the allegations against Bernard Shero....jury of eight men and four women asked for a rereading of testimony involving the alleged 1999 rape of a sixth-grader who was in Shero's English class at St. Jerome's parish school in the Northeast. In addition to the testimony of the now-24-year-old victim, the jury also asked to hear the testimony of Philadelphia Police Det. Andrew Snyder about his investigation of the incident. But after reviewing the questions with prosecution and defense lawyers, Judge Ellen Ceisler ruled that the transcripts would be too lengthy. She sent a note back to the jurors saying it was up to them to arrive at a collective memory of the testimony."

    Anybody surprised they can't recall the rambling nonsense that masqueraded as the evidence in this case? I'm just amazed that they're still at it. Feels like they're trying really hard to find something, anything......

  5. The judge is absolutely wrong in denying the jury's request. It's a small price to pay when discovering the truth is what is at stake. This judge, along with the last one, has blown her own credibility to shreds.

    1. @Ken. No, the judge is acting appropriately. Jury deliberation is not the time to replay the entire trial. if there is a specific portion where there is some confusion, then it is appropriate to allow a brief replay of certain portions of testimony, or allow certain exhibits to be sent back to the jury room. But you don't send back whole grand jury transcripts, particularly where some of it may not have been entered into evidence; and you don' replay vast portions of the trial. A jury is supposed to focus on the evidence and testimony as a whole and rely upon their collective recollection; and some jurors will insist that the judge replay portions of the trial that they think supports their view, effectively becoming advocates rather than jurors. In emphasizing those portions by playing them back during deliberations, other portions which are just as relevant may not be equally emphasized because one or more of the jurors are not asking for it, It is a delicate balancing act. But jurors are supposed to keep an open mind throughout the deliberations, weigh all the evidence--not just the portions that they feel support their view, and apply the court's instructions. Trial judges are reluctant to play back lots of testimony because they properly feel that the recency of what is played back during deliberations, compared to the evidence they heard a week or so ago, could cause them to overvalue or undervalue a particular piece of evidence relative to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Jurors are not entitled to hear any materials that were not formally introduced at trial--like Grand Jury testimony--merely because it was referenced by a witness or they were cross examined with a portion at trial.

    2. The problem with your response is that it makes it too easy for the shrill emotion aspects of the trial to stand out. The first trial reeked of that aspect, and the prosecution presented way too much fluff that was irrelevant to the trial itself. soon as Avery testified as to the reason he accepted the plea (which is wrongly being labeled a "recant", BTW), that is exactly what this prosecutor did.


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