Monday, October 27, 2014

A Three-Ring Circus Starring Billy Doe

By Ralph Cipriano

How many courtrooms does it take to unravel a lie?

In the case of "Billy Doe," the answer these days is three.

Billy Doe is a grand jury's pseudonym for the former altar boy turned heroin addict who told an incredible and constantly-changing story about supposedly being raped by two priests and a school teacher.

It's a story that defies all logic and common sense, a story thoroughly disproved by evidence gathered by the district attorney's own detectives. The Billy Doe case also contradicts established patterns of abuse over 40 years as exposed in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's  secret archive files.

But in a triumph of absurdity, a legal three-ring circus starring a clown named Billy plays on, resuming tomorrow with an 11:30 a.m. hearing in state Superior Court.


On Tuesday, defense lawyers for Father Charles Engelhardt and former teacher Bernard Shero will be in state Superior Court, arguing that their clients, convicted of sexually abusing Billy, deserve a new trial.

Next month, on Nov. 18, defense lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn, convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, will be in state Supreme Court in Harrisburg arguing that their client should be a free man.

While Engelhardt and Shero remain in jail in a continuing travesty of justice, Lynn is being held on house arrest after his conviction was overturned 11 months ago by the state Superior Court, a decision under review by the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, in Common Pleas Court, Billy Doe's civil case against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is being fought under cover of a voluntary confidentiality stipulation that has gagged the combatants. A  stream of documents, however, illuminating Billy's ample record of making "contradictory and false statements," along with a disturbing allegation of prosecutorial misconduct, have made their way from the civil case over to the criminal case. Anybody interested in the truth should be thankful.

In a case filled with secrecy and the trampled constitutional rights of the defendants, the district of attorney of Philadelphia has officially responded to the accusation of prosecutorial misconduct by prevailing upon the Superior Court to take the unusual step of sealing the entire record of the criminal appeal. It's a head-scratching decision that the district attorney refuses to comment on, a decision that has gone unchallenged by the defendants and ignored by the rest of the media in this town.

Billy Doe's junkie hustle, now playing simultaneously in three courtrooms, may be a continuing embarrassment to justice in the Commonwealth, but it does prove Winston Churchill's famous line: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

In this case, Billy Doe's crazy stories, as recounted in a grand jury report filled with 20 brazen lies and factual mistakes, have been reprinted as gospel in The New York Times, Rolling Stone and in more than 100 articles in The Philadelphia Inquirer. You can find that bogus grand jury report today preserved in all its falsity on the district attorney's own official website.


At 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday in Superior Court, 6th and Walnut, Michael J. McGovern and Burton A. Rose are expected to get 15 minutes each to argue why their clients, Father Engelhardt and Bernie Shero, deserve a new trial.

The DA is expected to get 30 minutes.

Engelhardt, 67, is serving a six to 12 year sentence after he was convicted on Jan. 30, 2013 of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor and indecent assault. Shero, 51, is serving an 8 to 16-year sentence after being convicted on the same day of the rape of a child, attempted rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of a minor, and indecent assault.

In a previous filing with the court, Rose has said that Shero deserved a new trial because of "newly-discovered evidence" -- contradictory and false statements made by Billy Doe to his many drug counselors, statements that Rose claimed amounted to an ongoing "fantasy of sexual abuse."

The newly discovered evidence surfaced during Doe's civil case. Doe's medical records showed that he first told his drug counselors he had "no history of physical or sexual abuse."

Then Billy told his drug counselors he was [take a deep breath]: sexually abused at 6 by a friend; sexually abused at 7 by a teacher; sexually abused or raped at 8 by an unknown assailant; sexually abused or raped at 9 by an unknown assailant; and sexually abused again at 9 by a 14-year-old family friend.

This was before Billy got around to telling the district attorney he was raped at 10 by two priests, and at 11 by a school teacher.

You have to give Billy points for being consistent; every year of his life from age 6 through 11 Billy claimed he was sexually abused or raped.

Billy, a lightweight at 148 pounds, also told his drug counselors that he was a paramedic [not true], a professional surfer [highly dubious] and that he used to weigh 220 pounds [Please hold your laughter].

Why would anybody believe anything this guy had to say?

His own mother on the witness stand described him as a "lost soul." His grade school teachers testified that Billy loved being the center of attention.

Doe, now 26, is a former ambulance driver in Northeast Philadelphia and a former landscaper in Florida. He was kicked out of two high schools, has been in and out of 23 drug rehabs, and was arrested six times as an adult for drugs and retail theft, including one bust for possession with intent to distribute 56 bags of heroin. Since he became the district attorney's star witness, however, his criminal record has been wiped clean.


In their criminal appeal, Rose and McGovern raised accusations of prosecutorial misconduct against the district attorney's office. The two defense lawyers claim that prosecutors didn't tell them about a
witness they interviewed before trial who would have bolstered the testimony of a key defense witness and called into further question Billy's already shaky credibility.

The witness that the defense claims the prosecution hid is Judy Cruz-Ransom, a social worker who was a victims’ assistance coordinator for the Philadelphia archdiocese.

On Jan. 30, 2009, Cruz-Ransom and another archdiocesan social worker, Louise Hagner, drove out to take a statement from Billy, then 20 years old, who had called in on an archdiocesan hotline the day before to report an allegation of abuse. 

Billy Doe got into a car that day and gave a fantastic statement written down by Hagner and witnessed by Cruz-Ransom. Moments before he got into that car, Billy had been chauffeured home from the drug clinic by his police sergeant father.

The defense lawyers made their allegations of prosecutorial misconduct after Cruz-Ransom gave a deposition in the civil case. In that deposition, Cruz-Ransom disclosed that she and her lawyer, Robert E. Welsh Jr., had visited the district attorney's office before the Engelhardt-Shero trial, to give a statement about what Billy Doe had told her.

There's a reason why the prosecution wouldn't have wanted Cruz-Ransom around at the Engelhardt-Shero trial. According to Rose's filing, in the civil case, Cruz-Ransom's deposition completely corroborated the testimony of Louise Hagner.

At the Engelhardt-Shero trial, the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti, spent so much time attacking the credibility of Hagner that one defense lawyer called her an "un-indicted co-conspirator."

Cipolletti would have had a harder time assailing Hagner if the defense could have produced Cruz-Ransom as a corroberating witness. But if you believe the defense lawyers, nobody at the district attorney's office ever told them about their interview with Cruz-Ransom.


There's a reason why the prosecution would like Cruz-Ransom and Hagner to disappear. [Regular readers of the blog can skip this section]. According to the two social workers, Billy, who appeared sober and at times seemed to be faking tears, told the following tales:

The star of the circus
-- Billy claimed that Father Engelhardt attacked him after a 6:30 a.m. Mass in the sacristy. The priest, according to Billy,  locked all four doors of the sacristy, stripped naked, and then forced the boy to have oral sex. Then, according to Billy, the rampaging priest flipped Billy over and pounded away at him with five hours of brutal anal sex. After it was over, the priest, Billy claimed, threatened to kill him if he told anybody about it.

--  Billy claimed that Father Edward V. Avery "punched him in the head" and knocked him unconscious. When Billy woke up, he claimed he was naked and that the priest had tied him up with altar sashes. Avery supposedly then raped Billy anally so brutally that he "bled for a week," Doe told the social workers.

-- Billy claimed Bernard Shero punched him in the face and attempted to strangle him by wrapping a seatbelt around his neck before he raped Billly in the back sat of the car.

But when Billy Doe told his story of abuse to the police and grand jury, all that anal sex, the death threat, the punch in the head from Avery, the punch in the face from Shero, the business about Billy being tied up naked with altar sashes and strangled with a seat belt, all of those details were dropped from Billy's story.

Instead, the resourceful Billy entertained his new audience with a completely new tale of abuse about oral sex and mutual masturbation with his alleged assailants, along with brand new story lines about Father Engelhardt showing him pornography and serving him some altar wine, and Father Avery forcing poor Billy to perform a strip tease to music.


How did Billy explain away his crazy stories to the archdiocese social workers? He claimed he was high on drugs. But even in resorting to his usual foolproof alibi -- the drugs made me do it -- Billy couldn't keep his stories straight.

Billy, what you call an improvisational talent, told the grand jury he was "wasted" and "high out of my mind" on heroin when he talked to the social workers. But on April 25, 2012, at the trial of Msgr. Lynn, Billy told prosecutor Cipolletti that on top of methadone "I was taking Xanax and smoking weed." A combination of drugs that Billy claimed left him "basically in a comatose state."

Actually believed Billy
According to the two social workers, however, as well as Billy's own previous testimony to the grand jury, Billy was sober enough to arrange a rendezvous via his cell phone with the social workers, sneak out of his house against the advice of his father, walk down the street and get into the car driven by Cruz-Ransom.

Then, according to Billy, the moment he started talking and Hagner started taking notes, the room began spinning and he can't remember anything that happened after that.

At this point in his revised story, Billy should have been sent packing by anybody over at the district attorney's office who wasn't still laughing. But a determined Seth Williams wanted to make prosecutorial history by putting Msgr. Lynn in jail.

Sure enough, Lynn, the Philadelphia archdiocese's former secretary for the clergy, became the first Catholic administrator to be thrown into prison for the sexual sins of the clergy. Then, nearly wo years after the district attorney's office put out its distorted grand jury report based on the fables of Billy, and those of another drug-addicted criminal named Mark Bukowski, the district attorney finally got around to investigating Billy's stories.

What did the detectives discover? That the witnesses they talked to and the evidence they gathered all contradicted Billy's stories, including church records, school yearbooks, Billy's report cards, and evidence provided by Billy's own family.


[Regular readers of this blog can also skip this section].

Nearly two years after the publication of the flawed grand jury report, the district attorney's detectives discovered:

-- Although Billy claimed that Father Engelhardt attacked him after a 6:30 a.m. Mass, his mother, a registered nurse, kept meticulous calendars that recorded the daily activities of her two altar boy sons, including Masses they served at. Those calendars for 1998 and 1999, when Billy was a fifth-grader allegedly attacked by Father Engelhardt, do not ever mention Billy serving as an altar boy at a single morning Mass.

-- Billy Doe told the police that Father Ed Avery accosted him after Billy the fifth-grade altar boy served at a funeral Mass at St. Jerome's officiated at by Avery. But a register of funerals kept by the church showed that none of the 80 funerals held at the church during the 1998-99 school year were officiated by Avery.

-- Billy told the grand jury that Father Avery accosted him while he was a fifth-grade member of the church's bell choir maintenance crew putting away the bells away after a concert. But three teachers at St. Jerome's, including the church's longtime music director, told detectives that only eighth grade boys were allowed to become members of the bell choir maintenance crew for a simple reason: only eighth-grade boys were strong enough to lift 30-pound tables and carry bell cases that weighed more than 30 pounds. The teachers' stories were backed by the school's yearbooks. No fifth grader was a member of  the bell choir maintenance crew, nor any sixth or seventh grader. There's also common sense to take into account. As a fifth-grader, little Billy who told tall tales weighed only 63 pounds.

-- Billy Doe told the grand jury that after he was raped by Father Avery, he got sick and missed a lot of time from school. But Billy's fifth grade report card showed that during the quarterly marking period where he was allegedly raped by Avery, he didn't miss one day at school. Including the day after he was alleged raped. That Billy, what a trooper!

-- In that bogus 2011 grand jury report, the district attorney's office, relying on Billy's crazy stories again, wrote that the two priests accused of raping Billy used an "enigmatic statement," a code word for their secret sex parties with Billy -- "sessions."

On page 12 of the grand jury report, it says that Father Engelhard "told Billy that it was time for him to become a man, and that 'sessions' with the priest would soon begin. With that enigmatic statement, Father Engelhardt let Billy go to school."

On page 14 and 15, the grand jury report, it says that two weeks after Father Engelhardt initially raped him, the priest asked [Billy Doe] "if he was ready for another session, but Billy emphatically refused ... A few months after the encounter with Father Engelhardt, Billy was putting the bells away after choir practice when Father Edward Avery pulled him aside to say that he had heard about Father Engelhardt's session with Billy, and that his sessions with the boy would soon begin. Billy pretended he did not know what Father Avery was talking about, but his stomach turned."

The two accused priests, Avery and Engelhardt, went off to jail telling their lawyers they had never heard of the term sessions, much less used it. But the district attorney's own detectives probably solved that "enigmatic statement" referred to in the grand jury report when they interviewed one of Billy's drug counselors, Mark Besben.

Besben told the detectives that "sessions" was a word counselors at the drug clinic used to describe one-on-one and group therapy sessions with patients like Billy.

Billy would have certainly been familiar with the lingo, having been and out of 23 drug rehabs.


As for the Supreme Court hearing next month on the plight of Lynn, after four years, the facts in the case are crystal clear. The only remaining question is what the Supremes will do with those facts.

In 2005 former District Attorney Lynne Abraham and a grand jury investigated whether Lynn could be charged under a 1972 state law against endangering the welfare of a child. Former DA Abraham and the 2005 grand jury concluded, and put it in writing, that Lynn couldn't be charged because the original state law didn't apply to him.
Msgr. Lynn

The state's 1972 statute that made it a crime to endanger the welfare of a child applied to "a parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age."

In other words, the law applied to people who had direct contact with children -- parents, guardians and teachers -- not to supervisors who had no direct contact with children such as Lynn.

The proof of this argument is that the district attorney subsequently conducted a state-wide public lobbying campaign to get the state legislature to change the original child endangerment law to include supervisors. The legislature wound up agreeing with the district attorney, and amending the law as requested.

The amended law, which took effect in 2007, applies not only to "a parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age," but also to "a person that employs or supervises such a person."

In 2011, a new district attorney, Seth Williams, and another grand jury basically applied the standards of the 2007 amended law after the fact to Lynn, and had him arrested for endangering the welfare of a child during the 1998-99 school year.

After years of stonewalling, in a rare moment of candor, the district attorney's office basically had to admit this. It happened on June 25, 2013, in what Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, referred to as a "single breathtaking admission" contained in a 63-page brief filed by the DA with the Superior Court.

In the brief, the D.A. stated that Lynn had "endangered the welfare of" Billy Doe by "breaching his duty to prevent priests under his supervision, such as [Father Edward V.] Avery, from sexually molesting children. The evidence is sufficient because [Lynn] was Avery's supervisor, with a specific duty to prevent Avery from doing exactly what [Lynn] instead facilitated."

The D.A. was referring to Lynn's failure during the 1998-99 school year to prevent Avery from raping 10-year-old Billy Doe. According to defense lawyers Bergstrom and Allison Khaskelis, the D.A.'s prosecution of Lynn for failing to supervise Avery was a "glaring ex post facto violation of the Constitutions of the United States and Pennsylvania."

"This is unquestionably the standard set forth in the 2007 amendment, which the Commonwealth has plainly admitted would violate the ex post facto provision," the defense lawyers argued, namely that Lynn was responsible, not for supervising the welfare of a child, but for supervising Avery.

It's unbelievable that almost a year after a panel of three Superior Court judges saw the logic of the above argument, Lynn is still being held under bail conditions that amount to house arrest. Lynn has to wear an electronic ankle bracelet at all times and has to confine himself to living on two floors of a rectory in Northeast Philadelphia. If he wants to leave the rectory to go see his lawyer or a doctor, he needs the permission of his parole officer.

No matter what people think of the monsignor, the facts are that a previous grand jury, a former district attorney and three judges on the Superior Court have all come to the same conclusion that the state's original child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn.

He should have never been arrested.

What a shame that when the lawyers gather in the state's highest court next month to debate, they'll be arguing about a crime that in all probability never happened.


The fourth man who went to jail in the Billy Doe case is former priest Ed Avery. On the eve of the Msgr. Lynn trial, Avery took a plea bargain, pleading guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, and conspiring with Msgr. Lynn to
endanger the welfare of a child.

Avery, who was facing a sentence of 13 1/2 to 27 years, instead got 2 1/2 to 5 years. At his plea bargain hearing on March 22, 2012, neither the prosecutor nor the judge asked if Avery was actually guilty of the crimes he was pleading to. The prosecutors had been warned in advance that if they asked Avery that question, he would have said he never touched Billy Doe. Avery also passed a polygraph test.

Avery later publicly recanted his confession when called as a witness at the Engelhardt-Shero trial. He told the prosecutor he took the deal and lied because he didn't want to die in jail. He remains in prison after serving his minimum sentence, but being turned down for parole.

The reason Avery was turned down for parole was because he didn't show any remorse. According to his lawyer, Mike Wallace, Avery explained it was hard to feel remorse for something he didn't do.


Billy Doe's tale of abuse does not square with a mountain of evidence already in the possession of the district attorney's office, the 45,000 pages of the so-called secret archive files formerly kept in a locked safe by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, pried loose by a series of search warrants.

The secret archive files constitute a 40-year history of sex abuse in the archdiocese, telling the stories of hundreds of child victims attacked by 169 abuser priests. The 418-page grand jury report of 2005 concentrated on the deeds of 63 priests that, according to the grand jury, had been successfully shielded from prosecution by a cover-up orchestrated by two late archbishops, John Krol and Anthony Bevilacqua.

Master of the cover-up
During the trial of Msgr. Lynn, the judge allowed the prosecution to present what amounted to a greatest-hits synopsis of the secret archive files, in the form of 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse. Those supplemental cases presented during the Lynn trial amounted to a seminar on clerical sex abuse in Philadelphia.

Judged by those standards, the Billy Doe case doesn't fit into the established patterns of abuse.

There was no grooming in the Billy Doe story. According to Billy, three predators who have no relationship with either the victim or his family struck without warning.

In the secret archive files, predator priests often prey  on broken families, spending years patiently grooming boys and girls for future abuse. It happens usually after somebody made the mistake of trusting a priest who posed as a longtime friend, mentor, spiritual guardian, etc.

But Billy Doe came from an intact nuclear family. He had a police sergeant for a father, a registered nurse for a mother, a doting Italian grandmother, and an older brother two grades above Billy who went to the same parish school and served in the same church as an altar boy.

Billy's family was so close that his parents, according to grand jury testimony, drove him and his brother back and forth to church when they served as altar boys, even though the family lived less than a mile from the church.

In the case of Billy's allegations, neither his father nor his mother nor his older brother, according to the district attorney's own investigation, ever witnessed any inkling of abuse.

In the case of the secret archive files, some 45,000 pages covering four decades of abuse, there is not one instance of a predator trusting enough to pass his victim onto a fellow predator, as claimed in the Billy Doe case.

But in spite of the facts, the records, logic and common sense, the three-ring circus starring Billy Doe plays on.


  1. Maybe it takes three courtrooms to unravel a lie because even though these Defendants had in fact committed pedophile acts or enabled pedophiles, they may not have committed these acts against this particular accuser. Or maybe they committed these acts against this accuser but it was in the wrong year to be able to hold them accountable (which I believe is the ground for appeal here).

    Or maybe these Defendants were themselves the victims of some really poor lawyering. Why didn't they depose Cruz-Ransom If her testimony would have been so crucial at trial? Were the lawyers confused about whether they can depose someone that the prosecution has deposed?

    It's nice that Avery's lawyer, Mike Wallace, explained to you that "it was hard to feel remorse for something he didn't do." But did he explain that to Avery before Avery took the plea deal? Did he explain to Avery that he would do the full sentence if he didn't show remorse? Is Mike Wallace acting like he couldn't have anticipated that Avery would do his full sentence?

    Did Mike Wallace explain to Avery that Avery's recanting on the witness stand was going to appear so bizarre and concocted to the jury that it will damage the Defendants' cases? Did the Defendants' lawyers know that Avery was going to recant as a witness in their trial, and did they agree to allow that?

    Did anyone explain to the jury why the teacher attempted suicide when police came to arrest him?

    Did Lynn's lawyer explain to the jury that, even though Lynn himself drew up the list of pedophile priests that got shredded, Lynn wasn't required by law at the time to do anything about the pedophiles all around him?

    Really bad lawyering, Ralph. I think that's why it takes three courtrooms to unravel a lie.

    1. Let's remind everyone that your knowledge of the case is second hand (news reports, tv, etc.) and did not attend one day of either trial.

    2. A blind woman speaks.

    3. Or maybe you're the victim of your own blindness, you mindless ideologue.

  2. Having followed these cases pretty much from their inception, I get the decided impression that there was conspiracy all right. For openers, let's put the DA's office and the judiciary under the investigative microscope......

  3. Ralph- Phil Inquirer report on the hearing focused on questions if a witness was properly defined as an expert and questions about the victim's drug history. Nothing I saw in Phil Inquirer story related to withholding of potentially exculpatory evidence- which appears to me ( a non lawyer) be the focus of your blog entry here.

    My question - what did defense lawyers present today?


  4. If you depend on the Inquirer to cover this case, good luck to you. Check the latest posting to find out what really happened.

  5. Ralph, isn't this just a rehash of a bunch of your old articles? Get some new material, will ya?

  6. I'll be happy to get some new material after all the defendants in this case are freed and Billy Doe is exposed in both the criminal cases and his civil case against the archdiocese for the fraud he is. Somebody probably should also investigate the conduct of the district attorney's office and the judges during the course of this "historic" prosecution. The defendants at the Salem witch trials got a fairer deal. In case you haven't noticed, this is the only journalistic outlet in town writing the truth about this case. If that truth disturbs you or seems repetitive, I would suggest you read the Inquirer, a newspaper where every prosecutor is a crusader for truth and justice and every accused priest already guilty.

  7. I appreciate that this site just presents things as they happened in court. Ralph's description of the Inquirer is spot on and one of many reasons why I gave up on my subsription after twenty plus years. Keep reporting the facts Ralph whatever side it hurts or helps. It's appreciated.


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