Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Not Wanted on the Archdiocese Sex Abuse Jury: Faithful Catholics and Bible-Thumping Protestants

By Ralph Cipriano

When it comes to picking a jury, it's interesting to see who doesn't get picked.

As far as the prosecution in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case is concerned, it wasn't exactly a plus to be a faithful, practicing Catholic.

The prosecution today bounced another earnest young woman who told the judge she went to Mass every Sunday. Lapsed Catholics, however, seemed to fare better; the prosecution even approved as an alternate juror a former altar boy who no longer attends church, and was convicted of assault at an Eagles game.

As far as the defense was concerned, defense lawyers on Tuesday rejected a born-again Protestant minister who proclaimed that she herself had been healed of sex abuse. Today, defense lawyers bounced the wife of an ordained Baptist minister. They also used a preemptory challenge to pass on an openly gay prospective juror who had previously served as a juror in a child rape case, and found it to be emotionally draining.

By the end of the day, however, lawyers in the case had signed off on 12 jurors and six alternates. Opening statements in the case against Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic teacher Bernard Shero are scheduled to begin Monday.

Prospective Juror No. 79 was a white male from Cedar Falls, Iowa, who moved to Philadelphia after he met his partner. He told the judge he had previously served as a juror on a rape case involving someone under 18.

"It was emotional, it was stressful," he told Judge Ellen Ceisler. "I find it difficult to keep the emotion out of it."

"I can assure you that this case will be emotional as well," the judge told the juror.

The jury that was picked in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case is composed of eight men and four women.

Juror No. 11 was a white woman who was a reading specialist. She told the judge she attended St. Bridget's parish. She was also a basketball coach who impressed courtroom spectators as a "tough cookie."

Juror No. 12 was a divorced black male who was an Army veteran formerly stationed in Germany; in Philadelphia he worked as a maintenance man. Juror No. 12 had previously served on four juries, including one double homicide case and another murder case. Juror No. 12 also told the judge that someone close to him had been the victim of a violent crime, namely his son, who was shot twice in the stomach, but survived without any lasting disability.

 "He was blessed," Juror No. 12 said.

Because of the recent flu epidemic, Judge Ellen Ceisler said she had been instructed by her bosses to make sure that she chose the maximum compliment of six alternate jurors.

A couple of prospective jurors have already been excused because they said they were sick. After one flu victim left the court on Tuesday, the judge had a court clerk swab the microphone with Clorox.

Alternate Juror No. 1 was a young white married female who was a graduate of St. Joseph's University.  She worked as a medical researcher at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and described herself to the judge as  "not a practicing Catholic."

"I just kind of stopped believing in the professed ideals of the church," she told the judge.

Alternate Juror No. 2 was a divorced black male who worked as a supervisor at a behavioral health center. He was a 1976 graduate of Germantown High who had previously worked at a Temple University mental health facility, where he had to investigate claims of sex abuse. Some of those claims, he said, were maliciously made by kids who wanted to get back at their parents.

"Allegations can be made, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's true," Alternate Juror No. 2 told the judge.

Alternate Juror No. 3 was a white male who was separated from his wife of six years. He currently works at a bank after a stint in retail clothing, and as a manager at a beer distributor.

Alternate Juror No. 4 was a young white woman who got married in 2010, and worked as a teacher at a charter school.

Alternate Juror No. 5 was a married black male who was a mechanic.

Alternate Juror No. 6 was a young white male who told the judge he was a former altar boy who was married to a teacher who graduated from Holy Family University.

The alternate juror told the judge he doesn't go to church any more. The judge asked if he had any particular reason for boycotting Mass.

"No," he replied, "just lazy."

When asked on the jury questionnaire if he knew anybody who had been convicted of a crime, he said myself. He told the judge he was found guilty of assault at an Eagles game, and was sentenced to 200 hours of community service.

Welcome to the jury, Alternate Juror No. 6.

After three days, the judge and lawyers on both sides of the case had finally approved 12 jurors and six alternates.

"Great job, thank you," the judge told both sets of lawyers as they left for the day.

Lawyers for the prosecution and defense are bound by a continuing gag order from discussing the case with reporters, so nobody was going to shed any light on jury selection. But from the bleachers, it was plain to see that anybody who might be packing rosary beads or a Bible wasn't going to be sitting on this jury.

The case resumes tomorrow at 1 p.m. with a discussion about the upcoming testimony of expert witnesses in the case.

UPDATE THURSDAY: This discussion was closed to the press by Judge Ellen Ceisler.


  1. Score round one (?) for the prosecution. I think this is a very good jury for them.

  2. Each side had an equal number of strikes. If round one is scored for the prosecution, it can only mean that the defense did a poor job or that defending Catholic Church crimes becomes more and more difficult in the eyes of the general public.


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