Wednesday, June 7, 2017

An Innocent Man Doing 8 to 16 Years In Jail For An Imaginary Rape

Judge Ceisler Sent Two Innocent Men To Jail
By Ralph Cipriano

Tomorrow, at a 9 a.m. hearing in Courtroom 453 in City Hall, the Honorable Judge Ellen Ceisler has a chance to right a wrong.

Four years ago, Judge Ceisler presided over a trial that was a travesty of justice. It ended with the judge sending two innocent men off to jail -- the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero.

Ceisler can't make amends to Father Engelhardt; he died in prison in 2014. In his last moments, the 67-year-old priest made a dying declaration to a fellow prisoner. "I am an innocent man, who was wrongly convicted," he said. It turned out to be true.

So Ceisler can't do anything for Father Engelhardt, but she can do something for Bernard Shero.

He's the former Catholic schoolteacher doing 8 to 16 years at the State Correctional Institution in Houtzdale, PA, for supposedly raping Daniel Gallagher, the lying altar boy known as Billy Doe. What the judge can do is grant Shero a new trial, and get him out of jail, after Shero served four years for an imaginary rape.

The 2013 trial of Bernard Shero and Father Engelhardt was a disaster right from the start.

The defendants stood up in court; the clerk was supposed to read the charges against them. And then the clerk read an extra charge, conspiracy, against each defendant that neither defendant was charged with.

Oops. The judge's reaction, however, was hey, no big deal. We'll get it right eventually.

But they got it all wrong. The entire travesty is recounted here.

When the verdict came in, every reporter in the courtroom was stunned. So was the judge.

The reporters agreed that whether or not you believed Billy Doe's crazy stories, there was so much reasonable doubt in the case that the judge would have been justified in setting those guilty verdicts aside.

But Judge Ceisler was no profile in courage on the day Engelhardt and Shero were convicted. Instead, she went along with a verdict that made no sense. A verdict based on the fantastic fables of abuse told by the star prosecution witness, Billy Doe/Danny Gallagher, who turned out to be a fraud.

In case you missed it, Joe Walsh, the retired detective who was the District Attorney's lead investigator on the case, has come forward to say that Danny Gallagher was a liar who admitted that he just "made up stuff." In a 12-page affidavit, Walsh wrote that he caught Gallagher telling so many lies that the detective repeatedly told the prosecutor in the case, former Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen, that her star witness wasn't credible, and that the evidence he had found contradicted Gallagher's crazy stories.

Sorensen's response, according to Walsh: "You're killing my case."

At sentencing, Judge Ceisler -- the gullible but misguided PC crusader -- hammered Shero with 8 to 16 years in jail, and Engelhardt with 6 to 12 years -- for couple of alleged rapes that never happened.

What happened next in Judge Ceisler's courtroom was something I will never forget.

After the judge imposed those long jail sentences on two innocent men, and they were led away in handcuffs, many of the defendants'  relatives started crying.

That's when Judge Ceisler's clerk -- the same bonehead who read an extra charge against each defendant that they weren't charged with -- went through every row in the courtroom and ordered every sobbing relative to leave.

"We're not allowed to cry?" Tracey Boyle, Father Engelhardt's niece, asked.

Nope, not in Judge Ceisler's court, after she sends a couple of innocent men to jail.

At Thursday's hearing, George Bochetto will represent Bernie Shero.

 "We're just very hopeful and very optimistic that we get Shero out of jail," Bochetto said.

When asked if he's defending an innocent man, Bochetto said, "It certainly looks that way, doesn't it?'

Neither Judge Ceisler, who just won the Democratic primary nomination for the Commonwealth Court, nor her staff could be reached for comment on this situation despite weeks of trying.

Bonnie Shero, Bernard's mother, will be there tomorrow in Judge Ceisler's courtroom to see if her son finally catches a break.

"My goodness, it's been like a nightmare that never ends," Bonnie Shero said about the tragedy that never ends for her family. "It tears our hearts out whenever we think about the false accusations," she said. "Hopefully, it will turn out for the best and we can bring him home."

"I did not assault Daniel Gallagher and I have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned," Bernard Shero wrote in a certification attached to his lawyers' amended petition for post-conviction collateral relief filed last month.

In their petition, Shero's lawyers, Bochetto and Jeffrey W. Orgen, outline two possible legal reasons for granting Shero a new trial.

The easiest one involves a recent finding by Judge Gwendolyn Bright, who was presiding over the retrial of Msgr. William J. Lynn. He's the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who became the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for failing to control abuser priests that he supervised.

Lynn's conviction in 2012 on one count of endangering the welfare of a child was overturned in 2015 by the state Superior Court. The star witness in the Msgr. Lynn case is the same star witness in the Engelhardt-Shero case -- Danny Gallagher.

In the Lynn case, retired Detective Walsh came to court to testify at a hearing about the lies he caught Danny Gallagher telling, and the prosecutor's failure to heed Walsh's warnings that Gallagher wasn't a credible witness.

Judge Bright found that the information testified to by Walsh should have been turned over to the defense, but wasn't. As far as Judge Bright was concerned, the District Attorney's office was guilty of prosecutorial misconduct serious enough to warrant a new trial for Msgr. Lynn. If the appeals court had not already granted him a new trial.

"The identical evidence that was improperly withheld from Lynn's defense team by the Commonwealth in violation of Sixth Amendment and Brady v. Maryland, is the same evidence withheld from [Shero's] defense team," Bochetto and Ogren wrote. "Accordingly, based on Judge Bright's ruling, [Shero] should be granted a new trial as the remedy for the Sixth Amendment and Brady violations."

The other reason for granting Shero a new trial involves Judge Ceisler having to find that Shero's trial lawyer, Burt Rose, was an ineffective counsel.

In their petition, Bochetto and Ogren rip Rose for agreeing to a joint trial with Father Engelhardt. That's because at the joint trial, the prosecution was allowed to drag former priest Edward V. Avery into court as a witness against Engelhardt. But Avery had nothing to do with Shero.

Burt Rose's position pre-trial was that Danny Gallagher's stories about being passed around like a piñata among three alleged rapists was so ridiculous, and so filled with factual contradictions, that the jury [and maybe even the judge] would see right through a third-rate conman.

But the jury bought Gallagher's lame act, and so did the judge.

Avery had pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with Gallagher, and conspiracy. Avery was facing 13 1/2 to 27 years in jail if he was convicted; instead he took a sweetheart deal and got 2 1/2 to 5 years.

Avery was the abusive priest that Lynn allegedly allowed to go back into ministry, which brought about the child endangerment charge filed against Lynn. But when Father Engelhardt went on trial, he was also charged with conspiring with Avery to pass around Danny Gallagher as a rape victim.

"Indeed, the mere presence of Defendant Avery at the trial of both men was devastating because it improperly bolstered [Danny Gallagher's] story," Shero's appeals lawyers wrote. Rose's defense that Gallagher's story "was unbelievable was dashed months before the trial when defendant Avery pled guilty and Defendant and Engelhardt and [Shero] proceeded to trial together."

"Mr. Rose's failure to properly object to his evidence further compounded the profound mistake of failing to sever [Shero] from Defendant Engelhardt," Bochetto and Ogren wrote.

Meanwhile, Judge Ceisler just won that Democratic primary for Commonwealth Court. Her successful campaign slogan:

"The Commonwealth Court profoundly impacts all citizens -- each of our family members, friends and neighbors alike," Ceisler wrote. "If elected, I'll never stop fighting to ensure that all Pennsylvanians receive fair and just treatment in Commonwealth Court."

Yo Judge Ceisler. It's long past time to give Bernard Shero the "fair and just treatment" he and his co-defendant didn't get the first time around.

By granting him a new trial.


  1. Ralph - another piece of exceptional journalism - many thanks for your unmatched tenacity in your quest for justice. We've all me praying for justice for Bernie. Now that Rufus is on the way out, perhaps he'll get it.

  2. Ralph, you mentioned Burt Rose's ineffective defense. Unfortunately, I think both lawyers screwed up big time - - - even before the case was actually heard.

    I remember reading in one of your earlier blogs that during the juror vetting process, one of the prospective jurors said that she was from Saint Jerome's and admitted that she even KNEW Father Avery. Chances are, she most probably also KNEW the Gallagher family, and certainly KNEW that Avery had taken a plea.

    In spite of this, neither lawyer apparently objected to her admission to the jury.

    IMHO, this too was a colossal legal blunder. This lady should have been challenged and then removed from consideration.

    I believe that she turned out to be the jury foreperson who refused you an interview - unlike the 'fashionable barefoot lady', a fellow juror with whom you did speak.

    1. That's all true, anonymous. And that lady who was wearing a wig, possibly to hide her identity, should have been tossed off that jury.

      We agree on that.

  3. Here's another point worth mentioning, and it pertains to the books found under Billy Doe's bed.

    One of the books was titled 'Know About Abuse', and Doe later stated that he used them to crack open his drugs. This book was written mainly for youngsters to alert them to the dangers and methods of sexual predators.

    In chapter 6 of this work, a hypothetical abuse account is described in which a youngster in school is asked to crawl up into an abuser's lap whereupon the dirty deed is done. After this, the child who was supposedly abused goes to the school nurse for help. In several ways, this sounded like Doe's initial account of the Avery abuse.

    This account was sent to both lawyers who apparently didn't see fit to use it in the trial.

    They placed all of their eggs in the 'reasonable doubt' basket.


  4. Ralph - she hasn't been elected to Commonwealth Court yet. That may academic, but the fact that another election remains in her path likely means these guys are screwed.

    1. You're right about that election, but I sure hope you're wrong about them being screwed.

      But at this point in this case, nothing will surprise me.

  5. Hopefully Shero will be granted a new trial and will receive his long overdue "fair and just treatment" from the judge but what about prosecutors being fair and just instead of bogus charges and invented crimes.

    Ceisler can try to right the wrong but prosecutors never do, they are still always right, according to them. When do they get disgraced like the defendants, when do their lives unravel like defendants and their families.

    When will the mainstream media wake up to the travesty of prosecutors that want to win at all costs who send innocents to prison to satisfy their indictment quotas .

    How many more defendants need to spend a lifetime in jail for a crime they did not commit before the media admits that prosecutors pass off untruths as truths and the part they play in a defendant's downfall.

    Without the media clearing the record they are denying the innocently accused their well deserved justice as well as hiding the truth about prosecutors from the public.

    1. If Bernie Shero is granted a new trial, you can bet your best china that the DA's office will not retry him. Why not?

      Simply because they'll be obliged to put Doe on the stand. If so, under intense cross-examination, Doe (and his mouthpiece) will both fall flat on their faces.

      Were Shero to be retried and then acquitted, I wonder if he could sue the DA's office for damages (humiliation, false imprisonment, loss of both employment and liberty, legal fees and the like) on the basis of the DA's ruthless prosecutorial misconduct.

      What do you think, Mariana? Hope we're ruining your day!

  6. I'll bet Mr. Peepers at the Inky is paying attention during the Cosby trial, no copying the prosecution's notes like he did at the Traffic Court trial.

  7. Ralph, has anyone approached you to film a documentary in The Keepers style? This injustice needs more exposure.

  8. Yes, I'm in the early stages of working on that. I hope it comes to fruition.

  9. I'm sorry. Ellen Ceisler can never be let off the hook for having a hand in the death of Fr Charles Englehardt. Not directly, but because of the subpar medical treatment he received in prison. Died handcuffed to a bed.
    Never forget.
    From the initial misreading of the charges, to her bench demeanor, to the sanctimonious behavior of her staff towards the families. She is a modern day Pontius Pilate.
    For someone running on a "fair and just treatment" platform. No way.
    Now she is running for a "higher" court

    1. Ceisler, along with Rufus, Blessington, Sarmina and Cipoletti will ultimately be judged by the HIGHEST court where one cannot object to the imposition of a just sentence.

  10. Apparently Judge Ellen Ceisler is very thin-skinned. In court today she had quite a bit to say about how she was unfairly being portrayed in the media.

    She is running for election this November. So hopefully her opponent is doing some opposition research and discovers how Judge Ellen Ceisler sent two innocent men to jail and one of them died there.

    1. @anonymous 1:45PM

      Excellent point! Here's a link to the folks who'll be on the ballot along with Ceisler:

      Let's write to the ones running against her. We can reference Ralph's articles.

    2. You can forget this. The race will come down to party turnout. Both R's got more votes, but they had fewer challengers. Overall the D's had more turnout, and Ceisler had the most votes in the D party. That likely puts Fizzano-Cannon and Ceisler on the Commonwealth bench.

      The Achilles heal is whether she's done any favors for Seth Williams or his friends. It is doubtful the FBI is out of ammunition from the Williams investigation but anything else on Williams at this point is piling on. More likely, they will shift to the other "fish" - city, judiciary, and union officials.

      Considering that Williams is facing a max of what, 380 years? The only thing between him and a plea that implicates half the city politicians is common sense and a protected cell, both of which he's going to need anyway. Let's talk on the 19th.

  11. If Ceisler thinks the media is doing her a disservice, I hope that she takes the time to read and digest the comments on this site. Or, maybe she was referring to this site - dunno.

    Was Sorensen present? If so, did we ruin her day??

    1. Sorensen not present. Maybe she'll come back on the blog again for more fun.

  12. I wonder how many souls left the church because of Seth Williams and Marina Sorensens invented sex scandal,not only did they have a hand in shaping public opinion they also drove Catholics from the church.

    Just as invented crimes of corruption, where there was none, prevents citizens from trusting in their government, finding innocents guilty of non-existent crimes erodes our faith and trust in authority.

    I could never believe the prosecution as there is more evidence in my mind that they lie and bend the truth for a conviction than telling the truth and sharing evidence with the defense for a fair and just trial.

    The justice department has done more to change my views of America than any Russian meddling ever could.


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