Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Msgr. Lynn Gets A New Trial

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

A panel of state Superior Court judges today vacated Msgr. William J. Lynn's prior conviction on endangering the welfare of a child and ordered a new trial.

Lynn,  the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's former secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, has been in and out of prison since his original conviction three years ago.

In a 43-page decision, the Superior Court judges ruled that the trial court -- Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina -- "abused its discretion" by allowing 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse to be admitted as evidence against Lynn.

The 21 cases dated back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born, and took up at least 25 days of the 32-day trial. In his appeal brief, Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, argued that the prosecution "introduced these files to put on trial the entire Archdiocese of Philadelphia, hoping to convict [Lynn] by proxy for the sins of the entire church."

The Superior Court judges agreed, ruling that the "probative value" of the supplemental cases "did not outweigh its potential for unfair prejudice, and that this potential prejudice was not overcome by the trial court's cautionary instructions."

In their decision, the Superior Court judges heavily criticized Judge Sarmina, whom they reversed on the same case for the second time in the past three years.

"None of the evidence concerned the actual victim in this case, and none of it directly concerned [Lynn's] prior dealings with either [former priest Edward V.] Avery or [Father James J.] Brennan," the Superior Court judges wrote about the two co-defendants on trial with Lynn. "In this regard, the trial court has apparently mistaken quantity for quality in construing the probative value of this evidence en masse." The Superior Court judges further declared that the "probative value of significant quantities of this evidence was trivial or minimal."

On June 22, 2012, a jury in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court found Lynn guilty of a single charge of endangering the welfare of a child. Lynn became the first Catholic administrator in the country to be sent to jail for failing to adequately supervise sexually abusive priests.

On July 24, 2012, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina sentenced Lynn to three to six years in prison.

Lynn had served 18 months of his sentence on Dec. 26, 2013 when a panel of three state Superior Court judges -- John T. Bender, Christine L. Donohue and John L. Musmanno -- unanimously reversed the monsignor's conviction and ordered him "released forthwith." But Judge Sarmina didn't agree, and instead imposed conditions on the defendant that amounted to house arrest. In doing so, the judge voiced concerns that if let out on bail, Lynn might flee to the Vatican.

Under Judge Sarmina's orders, Lynn was confined to living on two floors of a church rectory in Northeast Philadelphia. He had to wear an electronic ankle bracelet at all times. He also needed the permission of his parole officer whenever he wanted to visit his doctor or lawyer.

Lynn had spent 16 months under house arrest on April 27th, when the state Supreme Court reversed the reversal by the Superior Court. Three days later, Judge Sarmina granted a motion by the D.A.'s office to revoke bail and send Lynn back to jail to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

The legal battle over the monsignor's case dwelled on the wording of the state's original child endangerment law. The law, which took effect in 1972, says, "A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."

In their unanimous 43-page opinion of 2013, the Superior Court panel of judges said that Judge Sarmina's decision to allow the conviction of Lynn under the state's original child endangerment law was "fundamentally flawed."

The Superior Court said the "plain language" of the statute required that Lynn had to be "a supervisor of an endangered child victim" in direct contact with a child in order to be convicted of the third-degree felony of endangering the welfare of a child. The law also required that Lynn had to "knowingly" endanger a child. Lynn, however, had testified that he had never even met Billy Doe, the former 10-year-old altar boy who was the alleged victim in the case.

The Superior Court's conclusion that the state's original child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn was the same conclusion reached by a previous Philadelphia district attorney, Lynne Abraham, and a previous grand jury in 2005. Indeed, all the offenders prosecuted under the child endangerment law since the 1970s were either parents, guardians or teachers who had direct contact with children.

The state Supreme Court, however, ruled that the Superior Court had made a mistake when they concluded that under the statute, Lynn had to be a supervisor who had direct contact with children. Rather, the Supreme Court decided that Lynn merely had to be in a position where he was responsible for supervising the welfare of children by overseeing abusive priests.

It was a novel reinterpretation of the meaning of the law, which in practice, had never been applied in Pennsylvania to a single criminal defendant in more than 40 years before the Lynn case went up on appeal.

Since his return to jail, Lynn has served another eight months of his sentence, meaning he has been in prison a total of 24 months, as well as 16 months under house arrest.

In today's decision, the same panel of Superior Court judges -- Bender, Donohoe and Musmanno -- again reversed Lynn's conviction, this time because of the supplemental evidence. This time, the ruling was a 2-1 decision, with Judge Donohoe dissenting.

In her dissent, Judge Donohoe said the record showed that Lynn and other archdiocese officials handled allegations of sex abuse against priests "with the motive and intent of shielding the church from scandal."

But the other two Superior Court judges on the panel concluded that when Judge Sarmina decided to admit the 21 supplemental sex abuse cases, "the potential for unfair prejudice was great" because those cases involved the abuse of children by other priests who were not defendants in the Lynn case.

"When that evidence involved acts that occurred long before [Lynn] bore any responsibility for problematic priests within the archdiocese, the potential for unfair prejudice was even greater," the Superior Court judges wrote.

This potential for unfair prejudice was borne out in Judge Sarmina's summary of the evidence in the case, the Superior Court judges wrote. In her summary, Sarmina spent 17 pages dealing with Lynn's handling of Father Avery, the issue at trial in the case, while Sarmina spent nearly 113 pages on the evidence provided by the 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse.

In the Lynn case, Lynn was on trial for failing to prevent Father Avery from allegedly raping Billy Doe.

In today's Superior Court decision, the judges also speculated that evidence of Lynn's guilt was "demonstrably weak by the virtue of the three acquittals, and that the single conviction reflected the effect of the unduly prejudicial evidence -- or that it reflected the jury's intent to punish [Lynn] as a scapegoat for the polices of the Archdiocese, despite having concluded that his culpability for these specific offences was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Although the jury found Lynn guilty of endangering the welfare of a child, they found him not guilty of conspiring with Father Avery, or anyone else, to endanger the welfare of a child. The jury also found Lynn not guilty of endangering the welfare of another 14-year-old child who was the alleged victim of an attempted rape by Father Brennan.

The jury hung on two charges against Father Brennan, attempted rape and endangering the welfare of a child. The case is scheduled to be retried early next year.

On the eve of the original trial, Avery, Lynn's other co-defendant, pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, and conspiracy with Lynn and others to endanger the welfare of a child. Instead of facing a jail sentence of 13 1/2 to 27 years, Avery in his plea bargain got 2 1/2 to 5 years. Avery later recanted his guilty plea in a courtroom, telling a prosecutor who had called him as a witness that he had never even met Billy Doe, and that he pleaded guilty just to avoid dying in jail.

After the latest reversal in the Lynn case, the district attorney now has 14 days to decide whether he will appeal again to the state Supreme Court. The D.A. has not yet made up his mind on what he will do.

Reacting to today's decision, Bergstrom said, "I think it's the right decision and I'm pleased with it."

Bergstrom said that supplemental evidence is usually allowed in to show "other acts of the defendant." But at Lynn's trial, Judge Sarmina allowed 21 supplemental cases in as evidence, most of which did not concern Lynn but "other acts of others," Bergstrom said. The resulting prejudicial effect on the jury was "completely awful and devastating," Bergstrom said.

As of late this afternoon, Bergstrom had still been unable to reach his client to give him the good news. Bergstrom said he had no idea when Lynn would be released. The 64-year-old monsignor is currently working for 19 cents an hour as the prison librarian at the State Correctional Institute in Waymart, Pa.

As far as any further appeals in the case, Bergstrom wasn't making any predictions.

"We'll see what happens next" was all he would say.


  1. Don't Judge'...........

  2. Ralph

    A general legal question - how does the judicial system look at the " house arrest" in cases like Lynn?

    From the post, apparently they don't view it as time served. Does it come into play when parole is considered or does it reduce the time a defendant is on probation?

  3. Was told previously that the time spent in house arrest did not "officially" count in any tally of time served for Lynn. But that doesn't mean the defense lawyer in this case won't argue that Lynn deserves some credit for it.

  4. If Eakins can be suspended from the State Supreme Court, then Sarmina can be removed from the bench. Need another judge appointed to replace her and grant bail to Lynn without house arrest conditions imposed by Sarmina. Cannot let Sarmina be judge, jury, and executioner

  5. I expect there will be some news on this topic today.

  6. Sarmina has been show once again to be a "monster in judicial garb." will that moral crusader Blessington be allowed out of the basement to condemn Lynn in court using his now famous flare for the dramatic?. Will our much abused victim be willing to testify in court now that he has his money?. Does a link exist between Blessington's involvement with porngate and Supreme Court justices and their favorable overturn of Lynn's first appeal.? There certainly is a foul smell emanating from the Judicial System of this Commonwealth. How many innocent people sit in prison who do not have the quality of representation as Lynn and have been put there by collusion of best friends and dirty email sharing prosecutors and judges.

  7. Very basic judicial concept. We do not try a murderer for his case and add on 21 other unsolved murders to give the jury an idea of what the accused is capable of doing. All judges know this and will instantly grant defense motion to dismiss 21 supplement cases added to the charges. If even a first year law student would not even do what Sarmina did, then why is she sitting on the bench?

  8. Does anyone know the process by which a sitting judge is removed for cause? It would seem to me that Sarmina (the lawyers call her 'Max Mary') has certainly reached this state of 'ripeness'. Can the President Judge step in here, or is this up to the Disciplinary Committee??

  9. There should be more than enough probable cause for the defense to request another judge instead of Sarmina to hear bail requests and reasonable bail conditions for Monsignor Lynn instead of house arrest with a monitor affixed to his ankle. Reasonable men can agree than Lynn has already served more than 3 years in prison if they count time Lynn served in house arrest as prison time due to restrictions put on his freedom including a ban on sitting on a lounge chair outside the house due to the GPS equipped ankle monitor. It is time to release Lynn from prison and give him his day in court as requested. With the case focusing solely on Billy Doe (PAID OFF VIA SETTLEMENT) Lynn will have a much easier time defending himself and Billy Doe's attorneys will be very reluctant to let him testify, thus causing a different judge to dismiss the sole count remaining.

    Seth Williams is the problem. Only an idiot like him would want a trial for Lynn to be held when his gross incompetence and stupidity will be shown to all present.

  10. Rufus might be the next librarian at waymart. He can kill two birds with one stone,at 19cents an hour he can get his finances in order and also check out some law books which he seems not have done before this.

  11. When does Sarmina get to serve time for criminal abuse of the bench?


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