Friday, December 18, 2015

Prison Librarian Hopes To Get Out Soon

By Ralph Cipriano

The State Correctional Institute at Waymart has a new librarian.

Six days a week, Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, checks books in and out of the prison library for fellow inmates; he also keeps track of periodicals.

"It keeps him busy," said Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom. "They have a  huge library and it's really up to date."

As he works his job for 19 cents an hour, the monsignor can't help but watch the calendar and wonder whether he'll be getting out of jail again soon. Lynn has an appeal for a new trial pending before the state Superior Court. It's with a sympathetic panel of judges that has already overturned Lynn's prior conviction once before.

The reason why the wait time on the current appeal is so short is that one of the three Superior Court judges that heard Lynn's appeal, Christine L. Donohue, was elected last November to the state Supreme Court. So the panel of judges has only two weeks left to issue its decision on the Lynn case before Judge Donohue leaves the Superior Court to become Supreme Court Justice Donohue.

"I saw him on Monday, and he's doing well," Bergstrom said about his client currently housed at the state prison some 140 miles north of Philadelphia.. When he's not working at the library, the monsignor is working out and trying to lose weight.

"He's getting through it," Bergstrom said. "He's still hopeful" about his appeal.

On June 22, 2012,  a jury in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court convicted Lynn on a single count of endangering the welfare of a child. The alleged victim in the case was identified as "Billy Doe," a former 10-year-old altar boy who claimed he was raped by two priests and a school teacher. Lynn became the first Catholic administrator in the country to be sent to jail for not properly supervising abusive priests.

On July 24, 2012, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina sentenced Lynn to three to six years in prison. Lynn had served 18 months on Dec. 26, 2013 when a panel of three state Superior Court judges -- John T. Bender, Christine L. Donohue and John L. Musmanno -- reversed the monsignor's conviction and ordered him "released forthwith." But Judge Sarmina disagreed, and instead, imposed conditions on the defendant that amounted to house arrest. Lynn was confined to staying on two floors of a church rectory in Northeast Philadelphia. He had to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and ask his parole officer for permission whenever he wanted to go see 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 Philadelphia district attorney's office to revoke bail and send Lynn back to jail to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Since he returned to jail, Lynn has logged another eight months' prison time. If he loses his appeal, the monsignor will up for parole in October after he completes his minimum sentence of three years.

To date, the legal battle in the monsignor's case has dwelled on the original wording of the state's  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."

When the panel of state Superior Court judges reversed Lynn's conviction, they ruled that Lynn didn't meet the legal definition of a supervisor of children because he had no direct contact with children; rather, he supervised priests who had contact with children. In addition, while the old law said that a supervisor had to "knowingly" endanger the welfare of a child, Lynn testified that he didn't even know Billy Doe.

The state Supreme Court, however, disagreed, saying that under the law, Lynn was a supervisor of children who was responsible for their welfare by virtue of his position with the archdiocese where he was responsible for supervising abusive priests.

The issue of whether Lynn fit the definition of a supervisor of children was, however, only one of several issues raised during his appeal. Since the Superior Court only addressed that one issue, the other appeal issues raised by Lynn's lawyers were still pending before the court.

The biggest remaining issue concerned Judge Sarmina's decision at trial to allow 21 cases of supplemental sex abuse to be entered into evidence against Lynn, to show a pattern of conduct in the archdiocese. The supplemental cases dated back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born. The defense contended that Judge Sarmina's ruling made it impossible for Lynn to get a fair trial.

On Sept. 7, 2013, when Lynn's appeal was argued before the Superior Court, Bergstrom pointed out that by his count, 26 of 32 trial days were taken up with hearing evidence from the supplemental cases. Only six days of the trial were spent on the alleged crimes behind the actual charges against Lynn involving the alleged rape of Billy Doe.

Arguing for the Commonwealth before the state Superior Court that day was Hugh J. Burns Jr. chief of the appeals unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. Burns told the Superior Court that the 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse were "probative and relevant" to Lynn's "knowledge and intent."

One judge was clearly not impressed.

"That's your position?" asked Judge Bender, the president judge of the 15-member appellate court. At the same hearing, Judge Bender asked Bergstrom how long his client had been in jail, prompting speculation that turned out to be true about whether Lynn would soon be getting out.

Sometime before the New Year, the monsignor should know whether the state Superior Court will once again rule in his favor.

Then, if the district attorney appeals that decision, it would be up to the state Supreme Court to decide once again whether they want another shot at Msgr. Lynn.


  1. Looks like the decision was sooner rather than later, reports are out that a new trial has been ordered due to Sarmina allowing prejudicial testimony. Nothing we didnt know from the reporting on this site

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